Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Philip Hollobone 

Bain, Mr William (Glasgow North East) (Lab) 

Blunkett, Mr David (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab) 

Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab) 

Burley, Mr Aidan (Cannock Chase) (Con) 

Farron, Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD) 

Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con) 

Jones, Graham (Hyndburn) (Lab) 

Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con) 

Mills, Nigel (Amber Valley) (Con) 

Morris, James (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con) 

Munt, Tessa (Wells) (LD) 

Paice, Mr James (Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)  

Paisley, Ian (North Antrim) (DUP) 

Raynsford, Mr Nick (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab) 

Rotheram, Steve (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab) 

Skinner, Mr Dennis (Bolsover) (Lab) 

Sturdy, Julian (York Outer) (Con) 

Wheeler, Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con) 

Marek Kubala, Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

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Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee 

Wednesday 1 December 2010  

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair] 

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

2.30 pm 

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010. 

I look forward to serving under your chairmanship for the first time on a Delegated Legislation Committee, Mr Hollobone. 

The Government are committed to improved standards of animal welfare. Among the priorities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ structural reform plan are the support and development of British farming and the encouragement of sustainable food production. The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which was passed by the previous Government with all-party support, makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal and contains a duty of care for people responsible for an animal to take reasonable steps to ensure its well-being. That underscores our actions, but we must not rest there. We have to look at other ways further to improve the welfare of animals, and our decisions must be based on sound scientific evidence and advice. In particular, we receive advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which has guided all my decisions to date, including the one we are discussing this afternoon. 

The regulations implement Council directive 2007/43, which establishes for the first time rules governing the conditions under which meat chickens are kept and the monitoring of birds in slaughterhouses for poor on-farm welfare. The directive is unique in that it looks at not only inputs, but welfare outcomes, which I hope the Committee appreciates. A small section of the directive dealing with mutilations will be implemented separately through the draft Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010, which are scheduled for debate next week. 

The regulations before us apply to holdings with 500 or more chickens. They do not apply to breeding stocks of meat chickens, to hatcheries, or to chickens that are marketed as extensive indoor, free range or organic. Such birds, however, are subject to the provisions of schedule 1 to the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, which sets down general conditions for the way in which animals are kept. For the purposes of these regulations, we have defined the chickens in scope as “conventionally reared meat chicken”. 

As members of the Committee will be aware, meat chicken welfare is an important issue that causes a lot of concern. Some 850 million meat chickens are produced in the United Kingdom each year, and across the European Union the figure is some 4 billion. The UK is one of the

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largest meat chicken producers in the EU, with our industry’s total value estimated at £1.6 billion. Increased public awareness of meat chicken welfare in recent years has been reflected in significant sales of chicken that are produced to higher welfare standards by the major retailers. 

The directive came into force on 30 June 2010, and I apologise for the delay in its implementation in English law, which was due to the change of Government and the new processes that we have put in place to ensure the close scrutiny of all new legislation. I know, however, that the industry and the enforcement bodies have started to take account of the EU legislation in their activities, including—I emphasise this—in their training. I appreciate their commitment and good will in working with us on implementation. This has been example of partnership working at its best. 

Many hon. Members will be surprised to learn that currently there is no legal maximum stocking density for meat chickens in England. The directive permits member states to allow a maximum stocking density of up to 42 kg per square metre provided that certain criteria are met, which include a challenging cumulative daily mortality figure over seven consecutive flocks. That means that a producer will have to meet those criteria and provide the evidence before being allowed to stock at 42 kg per square metre. 

The Government, however, have decided not to take advantage of that derogation on animal welfare grounds. The draft regulations set instead a maximum stocking density for conventionally reared meat chickens of 33 kg per square metre, with an opportunity to stock up to 39 kg per square metre provided that additional house documentation requirements and environmental parameters are all met. That is in line with the aspect of the coalition agreement on improving standards of farm animal welfare. 

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):  Although Compassion in World Farming has welcomed the fact that the figure of 39 kg per square metre is below the directive’s permitted maximum, it claims that it is still too high. It is substantially higher than that recommended by the EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, which says that anything above 30 kg per square metre could present problems. What is the Government’s response to that? 

Mr Paice:  I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I have seen Compassion in World Farming’s circular on the matter and, as students of certain newspapers will know, I have had various discussions with it about this and a number of other issues. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will address the science. 

There is clear UK evidence that meat chicken welfare can be compromised in densities higher than 40 kg per square metre. A DEFRA-funded Oxford university study showed that while mortality and leg defects were not compromised at higher stocking densities, other measures were affected, such as jostling, a reduction in growth rate and fewer birds showing the best gait scores, according to an assessment of chicken walking ability. The Farm Animal Welfare Council—the Government’s advisory body on animal welfare—has also advised against adopting

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of a maximum stocking density of 42 kg per square metre, which is why we have not gone for the higher figure. 

In addition, more than 90% of domestic chicken production in this country is currently subject to assurance scheme requirements that operate at stocking densities of 38 kg per square metre or less. Adopting that approach and using the science that derives from the Oxford study and that is provided by our own Farm Animal Welfare Council allows us to show leadership on animal welfare—that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. The evidence he cites from Compassion in World Farming is correct, but that is the European science, and the European directive itself includes a higher figure than 30 kg per square metre. We are working on British-based science from Oxford. The scientific evidence clearly shows that 40 kg per square metre is the point at which welfare seriously begins to be affected, and I should also add that Wales and Scotland have also taken the approach of setting a figure of 39 kg per square metre. 

I want to emphasise that we are not just going to set the stocking density and leave it at that. The maximum stocking density will be reviewed as part of the post-implementation review of the regulations. In addition, the EU Commission will publish a report in 2012 to examine the directive’s application and influence on chicken welfare. We intend to commission a socio-economic research project to assess the impact of the implementing regulations on the relevant monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits identified in the impact assessment. The analysis will look at the impact of the regulations on the industry, the enforcement body activity, the effectiveness of the slaughterhouse welfare triggers, welfare outcomes and the experience of other member states, some of which will operate a maximum stocking density of 42 kg per square metre. 

As I said at the beginning of my speech, the regulations are unique because they also address the welfare outcomes for birds. This is also relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because it brings science to bear not only on a basic study, but on a long-term assessment of the impact of the regulations by looking at birds at slaughter. All birds will be subject to a post-mortem inspection in the slaughterhouse for possible indications of poor on-farm welfare. For flocks stocked at above 33 kg per square metre, the mortality information will also be assessed as an indicator of poor welfare, which will be defined through setting welfare triggers for mortality and post-mortem inspections in the slaughterhouse. Any concerns will be communicated to the producer and Animal Health so that they may take appropriate action, which might include drawing up an action plan in conjunction with Animal Health to outline how a welfare problem should be addressed. I stress that we are not simply setting figures today and leaving it at that. The birds will be monitored as they go through slaughterhouses and any indication of welfare problems can clearly be followed up, as traceability is quite precise in this industry. 

This system of welfare triggers will allow for a more consistent approach across all slaughterhouses to the identification of possible on-farm welfare problems. The welfare triggers have been based in part on a pilot study that involved some of the largest meat chicken companies working with us and Animal Health. That was another good example of working together. 

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I stress that we have chosen a figure that is slightly lower than the industry would have liked. It is also higher than some of the welfare bodies would have liked—one cannot please everybody all the time—but I believe it to be the right one. As I said, it reflects what is being practised by about 90% of the industry, and we believe that the science shows that it is the right figure. Clearly, the ongoing study and inspection of birds at slaughterhouses will allow us to examine the matter again, while the EU will look at it in 2012. The regulations are a significant step forward to improve the welfare of meat chickens and I commend them to the Committee. 

2.42 pm 

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Hollobone. 

One of the most regular occurrences for Members is receiving contact from constituents who are concerned about animal welfare. Many people throughout the country will welcome our debate and the seriousness with which the EU has taken the issue. In 2007, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was able to report to the House that the EU had finally reached agreement on a directive on this vital subject. The previous Government undertook a great deal of the work to transpose the directive. The present Government have now concluded that work, which is why we are able to consider the draft regulations. 

In principle the Opposition welcome the regulations. We accept the great contribution that the meat chicken industry makes to agriculture and the wider economy in this country. As the Minister said, the impact assessment on the directive states that it is expected that 850 million birds will enter the food chain in the UK in the next two years with a value of more than £1 billion—the assessment cites a figure of £1.2 billion. This is an issue on which the Government have to balance the effects on the industry and the wider economy with the very laudable and reasonable concerns about animal welfare that are raised by millions of people across the country. 

I wish to press the Minister on a few points about the implications that will flow from the regulations. He says that he will continue to take advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Council. What frequency of contact would he expect to have with the council about whether 39 kg per square metre should remain a suitable stocking density for the UK? Will DEFRA continue to fund scientific research into this issue to balance the impact on the economy against the impact on animal welfare? How often will FAWC itself review standards of animal welfare among meat chicken producers and make recommendations to Ministers? What kind of assessment has the Department made of the likely effects on producers, as well as the industry as a whole, of any alteration to the maximum density limit? For example, has the Department conducted any research on what would be the effects on producers, the wider economy and animal welfare of a reduction from 39 to 33 kg per square metre? 

The explanatory memorandum to the draft regulations sets out that some costs will be met by the industry. Indeed, it cites a figure of £14.7 million for transitional costs and suggests that the annual cost of complying

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with the regulations will be £5.1 million. Has the industry made representations to say that it will be able to meet those costs, or is it seeking additional assistance? 

Who is going to fund Animal Health’s monitoring of notices from producers who are going to stock above the level of 33 kg per square metre, but below 39 kg per square metre, as well as its work on regulating the directive? If there will be additional costs, have they been approved by the Treasury as part of the Department’s submission to the comprehensive spending review? Has the Minister started to issue draft guidance to Animal Health and the Food Standards Agency operations group on the modes of enforcement and the standards of inspections that will be conducted in the meat chicken production industry? 

What is the attitude of the industry? The impact assessment accompanying the directive states that there was a 19.1% failure rate for compliance with existing meat chicken welfare standards. Is the Minister confident that Animal Health and the Food Standards Agency operations group have sufficient capacity to minimise that rate, and indeed to ensure that we get 100% compliance with the regulations? What discussions has the Minister held with the industry to evaluate its level of preparedness should the draft regulations enter into force? In the ADAS and university of Exeter study published in 2009, 16% of chickens were found to be stocked at densities above 38 kg per square metre, but, of course, 80% of meat chickens were stocked at densities of 30 to 38 kg per square metre. Did the Department take that evidence on board when considering its policy? 

What impact does the Minister ascertain there might be on imports in the meat chicken sector? Imports have increased by 40% in the past 10 years, and there is significant competition from countries such as Brazil, which is not subject to the same requirements. Is there a case for the UK Government to make representations to the EU so that that important issue can be addressed in future World Trade Organisation negotiations for a completion of the Doha round, which we hope will be successful, because it remains a significant barrier to competition in the meat chicken industry? 

If the Minister can provide additional guidance on those issues, it would assist the Committee. Opposition Members supported the draft regulations when they were in government, and we certainly see no reason to oppose them today. 

2.49 pm 

Mr Paice:  I omitted to welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow North East to his post on the first time that we have debated a statutory instrument in Committee, although I have done so on the Floor of the House. 

The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions, and I will certainly endeavour to answer them all, if I can sort my way through the confetti that I am rapidly gathering. However, some of the answers to his questions are in the consultation document that was issued by the Labour Government. 

The hon. Gentleman asked about the frequency of my contact with the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I meet the chairman roughly quarterly, and I have regular meetings with the council. In addition, my staff and the

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Animal Health team have regular contact with the council. To answer the question about slaughterhouses, we also have regular contact with the Food Standards Agency, which has now, as he knows, absorbed the Meat Hygiene Service. We can be pretty sure that those contacts are taking place and that that is all in order. 

FAWC will review the standards when it thinks that there is a need to do so. There will be constant input from meat inspectors and from Animal Health about what is happening in the slaughterhouses. I have tried to make the point that the regulations involve ongoing studies of what is really happening so that any problems can be identified and consideration can be given to whether a problem is simply an enforcement issue or something that relates to the regulations. 

A wider question has been raised recently, with justifiable concern, about alleged low standards in some of our abattoirs for red meat and poultry meat. I am determined that we should stamp that out. The chief executive of the Food Standards Agency has made it clear that poor animal welfare standards in our abattoirs should not be tolerated, and I reassure the Committee that I am confident that he is determined to stamp this out through his inspectors. 

The hon. Gentleman asked what kind of assessment has been made about a reduction to 33 kg per square metre, as well as about imports. I think that those questions are closely linked. The basic picture is that if we were to reduce the maximum stocking density to 33 kg per square metre, we would destroy most of our industry—it would not be able to compete because of the price premium that would be necessary. I cannot put a precise figure on it but we know that we must be able to produce chickens at a price that competes with Brazil and Thailand, which are our two main competitors. They are not bound by such regulations, but there have been reports recently that Thailand is operating a lower stocking density. I make the point that stocking density for meat chickens is partly influenced by climate, because the ability properly to ventilate a building depends on outside temperature. 

We have tried to strike a balance. For economic reasons, we clearly do not want to destroy our own industry, but there is a welfare issue. If we were to choose a level at which our industry became uncompetitive, all that would happen would be increased imports of chickens from countries using lower welfare standards, meaning that the overall welfare of chickens per se would have been damaged rather than enhanced. We have tried to find the right balance between ensuring that our industry is competitive and looking at the science to which I referred about the impact of stocking density on welfare. 

The industry has not asked for any assistance on costs, but that is probably because it knows what the answer would be. How will we fund it all? It is funded through Animal Health—that is quite straightforward. The Treasury has not been asked specifically about meat or poultry inspection costs, but it has agreed our overall expenditure plans. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are waiting for Rosemary Radcliffe’s report, which was commissioned by the previous Government, on responsibility and cost sharing. I cannot say any more until we have that report, so I cannot say what the Government’s policy will be as a result. 

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Have we issued guidance to Animal Health? I have not yet managed to sort through all the confetti in front of me, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman with that answer. I am almost certain that the answer is yes, but if we have not, we certainly will. 

What has the industry said? As I stated in my opening remarks, most of the industry is already achieving the figure of 39 kg per square metre. We believe that around 90% of the industry is there, while the other 10% is a bit higher. Obviously, that 10% is not that happy—we cannot get away from that—but overall the industry accepts and appreciates what we are saying. I should emphasise, as I think I did earlier, that the industry has

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worked with us closely as we have developed the regulations. The regulations go beyond only the question of stocking density, as training, qualifications, and grandfather rights are also included. 

I think I have covered all the hon. Gentleman’s points, but if he wants to intervene with anything that I have missed, he is welcome to do so. If not, I hope I have answered his questions and I am grateful for the Opposition’s support. 

Question put and agreed to.  

2.56 pm 

Committee rose.