Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)



  Q360 Chairman: Can I follow that with the specific line on fish farms? Following Joan Ruddock's line of questioning, and I may not have detailed knowledge of the laws, in terms of the way in which animals are kept in fish farms, whether they be tank-based activities, for example like trout, or sea-based activities for other species, the way in which you look after them can have a material effect on the welfare of those fish: the removal of excrement, the use of chemicals, different feed types and that kind of thing. Do you accept that that is a legitimate area for legislation?

  Mr Denton: This fits and the fish farmers are genuine keepers of fish; they are interested in the welfare of their fish. It makes economic sense for them to be interested in that welfare. I believe at the moment that animal welfare law does not really extend into the fish farming area in the EU and in the UK. It has been under consideration for a long time in Europe but the fact of the matter is that fish farmers are concerned about the welfare of their animals. They take common sense measures to look after their animals. From the point of view of public image, they are interested in humane slaughter and practices like that. I think the fish farmers can be encompassed within this.

  Alan Simpson: I was not sure whether you were answering yes or no to the Chairman's question there.

  Q361 Chairman: I think I read this in some evidence that we are considering later this week, and I therefore will not mention the organisation unless I can find the particular bit that caught my eye, because from fish farms we move to aquaria. One of the things that intrigued me is that you are constraining, sometimes in relatively small pieces of water—and I appreciate this is not the direct area of responsibility of the sea fish industry but I am exploring some of the issues connected with fish—the keeping, for example, of sharks in what man might think as large tanks but sharks are used to roaming the oceans. Does that raise welfare issues that ought to be encompassed by the Bill?

  Mr Denton: I believe that in Europe they have been tussling over a code of practice for fish farming activities for the welfare of fish. I think that has been going on for 12 years. They have been trying to develop a code to cover some of these issues but it is difficult. To my knowledge, they have not reached agreement on this. My response previously was on the principle of this, that fish farmers are genuine keepers of animals and they are interested in the welfare of those animals.

  Q362 Patrick Hall: Both organisations have said that the provisions of the Bill should not apply to their area of interest. In order that I understand the context of that, could you both say what, if any, welfare provision, backed up perhaps by regulation, et cetera, exists to cover both commercial sea fishing and more leisure-based angling and perhaps inland or sea loch fish farms? What existing set of behaviour legislation welfare practice exists which you may or may not say is more than adequate and therefore this Bill should not apply?

  Dr Broughton: From an angling context, in England and Wales, before somebody can fish in fresh water it is necessary that they buy a rod licence from the Environment Agency and in so doing they are covered by the provisions of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, the regional fisheries byelaws and a number of other pieces of legislation which regulate angling, the exploitation of fish and the protection of the resource. By law, anglers already have to abide by pieces of legislation. Before they fish in a particular place, they also need the consent of the owner of that fishery in fresh water—in the sea it is slightly different—and they would also be governed by any rules or regulations that that owner would insist they complied with when they went fishing there. That is commonplace. In addition to that, there is a plethora of codes of conduct, but there are some national ones which would sometimes, and increasingly, be the standard by which fishery owners would regulate their own inland fisheries, but would they would also be and are quite rightly promoted to anglers and angling. Although anglers will tell you for ever that it is an escapist sport, in actual fact angling is quite highly regulated at law already. The other way of approaching your question, and this is something that might be helpful to you, is to tell you that the Government instigated a review of the fisheries legislation several years ago under the Chairmanship of Professor Linda Warren. That sat and took evidence for about a year and a half. That was shadowed by a committee under Lord Moran's chairmanship. The report includes 196 recommendations, some of which can be accepted and scooped up in other ways, but there is a proposed Fisheries Bill, which hopefully is not gathering too much dust and is due to come forward. I would certainly see that issues which cannot be resolved revolving around fisheries and angling within this Animal Welfare Bill could be scooped up in that way under the proposed Fisheries Bill.

  Mr Denton: In the sea fishing area, as regards commercial fishing, there is not enough room in this office to encompass all the European legislation controlling the fishing industry and much of that covering the techniques used for fishing, such as controlling the size of meshes and things like that. I do not believe there is anything in law to cover the welfare aspects of the capture process itself, although all these methods are recognised in law under the Common Fisheries Policy, et cetera, by either European or UK law. I believe the 1911 Act can apply after a wild fish has been caught. That is an interpretation, but in the 1911 Act there is provision for dealing with animals for the purpose of food production, which is what our industry is doing, and so there is protection for the industry built into the 1911 Act for doing that. There have been some further pieces of legislation of EU origin which some people interpret as having superseded some aspects of the 1911 Act in that respect, but if you look at them carefully, they apply to animals that are bred and kept for meat production et cetera, and so they do not apply. I think we are only left with the 1911 Act applying at the moment.

  Q363 Patrick Hall: Is commercial fish farming the area that may have some welfare provision whereas sea fishing does not?

  Mr Denton: The application of the law to fish farming operations is a little grey. It is not my area of speciality, you understand. There is EU law regarding farm animals. Whether or not that encompasses fish farms, I do not know.

  Chairman: I am going to stop that line of questioning because it is not fair to ask you on that, but I think we need to make note that we should follow that up with Defra. I know that they are keeping a watching brief over our proceedings. Perhaps, if they are listening, they might be kind enough to enlighten us about fish farms in the context of our line of questioning.

  Q364 Alan Simpson: I was just going to register a word of caution about the role or the interface between EU legislation and our own domestic responsibilities. We have seen in the problems in relation to cetacean by-catch that the Minister can intervene to stop a form of fishing which is responsible for the by-catch but we have not been able to persuade our European partners to do the same outside our territorial limits. There seems to be a block at the European level to produce effective legislation. Mr Denton, I just wanted to come back to the answer that you gave about fish farms, and I know you have said it is not an area in which you specialise. At one point I thought you were saying that these are people who clearly keep fish and they therefore have interests in the welfare of fish. I was not sure whether you were saying that is fine, they will be quite happy to be brought in under this legislation, or whether you were saying it was because they keep fish and they have an interest in the welfare of the fish that they do not need to be brought under the legislation. You just need to be clear with us.

  Mr Denton: I should not speak for them. In my conversations with them they have given me the impression that they would be prepared to be encompassed by a Bill such as this, but of course it would need a code of practice geared to their requirements rather than four-legged animal requirements.

  Q365 Alan Simpson: Then I can keep my question very simple: can I take it from what you are saying that you are not appearing before the Committee today to make the case for excluding fish farms from the remit of this legislation?

  Mr Denton: That is my position.

  Q366 Mr Mitchell: I cannot resist this. I am horrified by what is going to happen if all these bleeding hearts keep going on about what we are going to do to protect a few goldfish taken home by kids from fairs. We are going to open a Pandora's box that will hurt commercial fishing and anglers. Those fish know they are going to a better place, namely Grimsby! I am worried about the repercussions and I think you are right to be concerned. Let me ask you both one question which is often raised: do fish feel pain?

  Dr Broughton: The straight answer to that is no.

  Q367 Mr Mitchell: How do we know?

  Dr Broughton: There is a straight answer and there is a more complicated answer. The more complicated answer is that if you look at all the evidence from what we know scientifically and weigh it in the balance, there is a mass of evidence that would indicate that they do not at an anatomical level, in terms of their structure, their physiology and their behaviour; and there is a small amount of evidence on the other side from which you could advance an argument that they do. I weight that evidence up and conclude, as a scientist, that they cannot feel pain. That does not mean that they do not feel anything, and it does not mean that fish cannot be stressed, but the word "pain", the infliction of pain and the registering of pain by fish cannot be proven and the weight of evidence suggests that they cannot. That is what I believe.

  Q368 Chairman: Ms Roxburgh, do shellfish feel pain?

  Ms Roxburgh: I believe that you probably feel pain, but I cannot prove it. It is as simple as that. If I went round and kicked you all on the shins, you would all react. I might say, like the Cartesian philosophy, "Well, it is purely a motor reaction". I do not know whether you feel pain or not. I know I would, but I cannot say about you because pain is a subjective experience. All subjective experiences are experienced in different ways subjectively by the individual. As an animal rights campaigner, I always object to the fact that I have to talk about pain at all because I do not believe animals should be killed under any circumstances, whether they feel pain or not, but while I am here I have a different hat on; I am talking about the welfare of the animals. I believe that whether we can prove it or not, we have to give the animals the benefit of the doubt. We do this in our courts; why can we not do it for the animals? I am not saying that all of us should stop eating fish and we should all stop killing the fish and catching the fish. I am not talking about that here today. I am talking about the way we treat food animals when we are rearing them. My remit is for the invertebrates.

  Q369 Mr Mitchell: Let me stop you there. Your evidence is much more sympathetic to the shellfish we are dealing with. Indeed, you say in the opening sentence: "Shellfish suffer at all stages . . ." That is an absolutely frank statement.

  Ms Roxburgh: That is right.

  Q370 Mr Mitchell: What should the legislation do about that?

  Ms Roxburgh: In our submission, we are talking about: trapping of the animals when they are in the wild state; transport of the animals when they have been caught—and all of this is in our submission of which you probably have copies and have seen; storage of the animals when they have been transported; selling the animals live to the public; and the killing of the animals. In all those areas we believe that legislation can be used.

  Q371 Mr Mitchell: So all those should be included in the Bill?

  Ms Roxburgh: Yes, all those should be included in the Bill because they are food animals. We are treating these as food animals, and therefore in all aspects we could say that these are similar to farmed animals, because once they have been caught, then they are treated in the same way: they are transported, stored and killed. Therefore, they should be treated in exactly the same way, and with the attitude that these creatures, because scientifically there are some on one side who say you can—and I have a whole pile of stuff here that you may be interested in and that is why I brought it along—Can Invertebrates Suffer? This is all about suffering in invertebrates, and a great deal of research has been done on that. This is the Baker research, and I have read all of his diary notes on it as well. We have others on pain in fish. It is not a small amount; I am sorry, but it is not a small amount of scientific research; there has been a lot of scientific research. We feel that it is absolutely essential that we consider in those terms that there is a strong possibility that these animals suffer in their way. It may not be the human way, and it may be of course that we do not have enough information and do not know whether we can prove whether or not they suffer. That is our problem.

  Q372 Mr Mitchell: You are not going to eliminate the suffering, are you? We are going to eat them eventually.

  Ms Roxburgh: Well, probably you are—I am not. Yes, a lot of people are going to eat them eventually. It is a huge industry, so I am a practical person and I am not going to say that overnight this industry is going to come to an end. It is the welfare of the animals in—

  Q373 Mr Mitchell: What welfare provisions are currently in place relating to shellfish?

  Ms Roxburgh: Very few provisions, to be quite honest, currently in place for these animals. In the trapping of the animals you can use at the moment any kind of pots, when we are talking about lobsters; the lobsters can be left in those pots; they can be washed up on beaches; they can die from sunstroke or starvation; they can be left in the sea for many, many days or weeks on end. The transport of the animals means they are put into conditions that are totally unnatural for them. There is no reason for that. There are actually good practices being considered. There is research on the type of traps that could allow for much sooner release. The trap itself could release the animal after so many days.

  Q374 Chairman: These are your bio-degradable ones.

  Ms Roxburgh: That is right. How much research has been done on that recently, because we have been putting this forward for years now? It is quite a possibility, like with the stitches that are self-dissolving. That could happen in a much, much sooner time and could be included in the Bill.

  Q375 Mr Mitchell: Is there any legislation about how they are killed?

  Ms Roxburgh: Not really, no. You can put a live animal into boiling water; you can put a live animal into cold water and bring it to the boil; you can cut the flesh out of the live animal; you can cut an animal any way you like; and you can sell live to the public. The public have no idea how to kill an animal properly. There is a lot of good practice among chefs, and they will practise properly on how to kill these animals, especially crabs and lobsters—the others are very small and more difficult. Let us concentrate for instance on the crabs and lobsters. Good practice is methods of killing them as fast as possible so that they do not suffer. A lot of the research that has been done with boiling shows that they do suffer because of their behaviour.

  Q376 Chairman: In your evidence you juxtapose death by being boiled, and the alternative, which you seem to say is more humane, is death by being frozen in a plastic bag.

  Ms Roxburgh: Yes. We do not know whether that is a better way to do it. We have been told scientifically that the very quick freezing method, which is putting them on separate trays in bags and putting them at minus 20 in a deep-freeze is probably much quicker and much less likely to cause them suffering, but we do not know because they might get crystalline deposits in their joints. We do not know. If you are going to kill them at all, we are suggesting the Crustastun, and this is where Simon comes in. It is an electronic stunning device that stuns them immediately. Simon has sponsored this, and it is in the process now of being manufactured.

  Q377 Mr Mitchell: This does not have to be handled by a vet.

  Ms Roxburgh: Not necessarily, no. They are not handled by vets now.

  Q378 Mr Mitchell: I know, but the stunning device—

  Ms Roxburgh: No, not at all, no.

  Mr Buckhaven: Can I give you some information about this? I have put together a small bundle, if I can hand those in.

  Ms Atherton: Can I just ask a question while you are doing that? Coming from Cornwall—lobsters and crabs are quite an important part of our industry and—

  Chairman: Are you speaking for the industry or the crabs and the lobsters?

  Q379 Ms Atherton: I have to be honest, that there is always a great debate as to who is going to be the person and how we are going to do it. We have opted for the freezing option for lobsters, because I agree with you that they do seem to want to get out of the boiling water; they do not seem to just stay there, do they? Will this stun gun though be of a price that people in their ordinary kitchens can afford and not just our great chefs? If it is of a price that people who are in a position to purchase crabs and lobsters live—which, let us face it, is not cheap—if they can get a stun gun in their kitchen, that would be understandable and people would probably go along with that.

  Mr Buckhaven: At the moment, there is no known method, apart from ours which we have developed between the Bristol University Food and Animal Department and Silsoe Research Institute. The only way of stunning crabs and lobsters is electronically. We have devised that. You can have what is called a stand-alone for fishmongers in restaurants. We have now also developed a continuous flow method for processors who have to have about 1.2 tonnes of crabs per hour. The first prototype has been manufactured in Canada by a producer of shellfish equipment. Someone in Cornwall—I will not name him—a new processing plant has ordered it. It is now being finally tested in Canada and will be shipped over in the later part of this month for production. It works perfectly. The crabs are almost instantaneously knocked out, anaesthetised, and they are killed within 10 seconds. This goes through a conveyor belt system. You can do this with crabs and lobsters, and with crayfish, although we have not actually made the crayfish one yet. That already has been purchased by a shellfish producer. There are a number of shellfish producers in Scotland who want the same equipment because it is economically viable for them to have it. This is not even on humanitarian grounds. At the moment, you cannot boil a crab immediately without it losing a claw, shedding—it is a reflex action; it loses and sheds something. Some people relate that to pain. In order to therefore produce it commercially, they bring in the crabs and they put them in holding tanks of fresh water. It is regarded by most scientists, because it swells up within the body, as being more cruel, but that is the only way they can do it, and it takes between eight to 12 hours. All the shellfish producers throughout the world work on that basis. What they have found is that sometimes they fight each other and lose limbs, and sometimes you have a dead crab that has been brought up, and that deteriorates between 25-30% faster than anything boiled; so they are cooking something which has already gone past best buy. In this way, as soon as it comes off the sea, they are brought in; they are put in these conveyor belt systems; they are as fresh as anything and are seen by each individual as they go through. They are zapped immediately, and there is virtually no wastage at all. The company in Canada are even less squeamish; they chop up the crabs alive, and in doing that they have 18% wastage, so they are interested in this because this actually kills them first. They do not bother about anything else and they sell them fresh, cut up, and therefore they are interested in this machine. This machine now is working and, as I say, there is demand from the producers themselves. I have two photographs there of the machine. It is quite large, but it fits in. The one you see in the photograph does 1.3 tonnes per hour of crab. So far as the stand-alone one is concerned, that has been developed and we have a prototype, which is at the moment being re-designed for commercial catering establishments. At the moment it looks a bit primitive; it has an ammeter, and one does away with all that. So far, I have had inquiries from at least one relatively large chain of restaurants in Belgium, and something like 50 restaurants. Because this has been dealt with in the catering and fishing news, they have got to know about it, and so they have approached me about that, and I have potentially something like 50-70 restaurants wanting to use this machine.

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