Examination of Witnesses (Questions 64-87)
Q64 Chair: Good
afternoon. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Mr Bowles
and Ms Clark, would you like to introduce yourselves for the record,
David Bowles: Thank
you very much. My name is David Bowles. I am the director of
communications at the RSPCA, and on my left is Alice Clark, a
senior scientific officer at the RSPCA in the farm animals scientific
department. She is our laying hen expert.
Q65 Chair: You
are both very welcome. If I may ask a general question at the
beginning, successive Governments have taken a number of animal
welfare measures in a variety of sectors and, perversely, the
consumer goes out and purchases on price. How do you feel that
we are progressing animal welfare in this country when we are
damaging our own producers and just boosting imports?
David Bowles: The
laying hen and egg issue is a good example of where that is not
happening. If you look at where we started off in 1999, 25% of
the market was free range eggs. Here we are in 2011, when that
has increased by 2% to 3% each year, and we are now at, as BEIC
has said, probably 45% to 50% of the market. That has happened
because consumers are not choosing on pricebecause there
is still a price differential between battery, barn and free range
eggsbut on welfare grounds. The egg is the clearest example
where you have seen the shortening of the tie between what consumers
say in an opinion poll and what they actually do when they get
into the supermarket.
Q66 Chair: Do
you believe that will still be the case if the EU directive comes
into force and 29% of EU eggs are not compliant?
David Bowles: What
the RSPCA has been extremely consistent about all the way along
from 1999, when the ban was agreed, is that we have said to consumers
that they need to play their part in this. They can play their
part by choosing free range or barn eggs, and certainly by buying
Lion eggs. We still say that. That is really important. The
people who will determine whether this ban comes into effectwe
have already heard from the previous witnesses that there are
clear challenges with enforcement and change-overand can
play their part in ensuring that that is as smooth as possible
are the retailers, the processors and consumers.
Q67 Chair: In
your memorandum you say that EnglandI am sure you mean
the UKhas several advantages in ensuring that no illegal
dried and liquid eggs enter the market. Are you equally confident
that such imports are not passing around the rest of Europe?
David Bowles: No,
but there are eggs coming in particularly for the egg processing
market. That is a problem. In terms of shell eggs I think we
have a situation now in the UK where we will be fairly compliant
with shell eggs being legal and in accordance with the directive
come 1 January 2012. The issue and the challenge will be in the
processed and the egg products markets. We have all accepted
that; indeed, the RSPCA was clear that that would be the challenge
way back in 1999. It is still a challenge. If you look at the
Commission's latest data, there are egg products coming from the
USA, Argentina and India. All of those places are using cages.
The USA is probably 95% cages; India is probably 90%. Therefore,
there are real challenges, because they could undercut European
producers. The key area, therefore, to focus on is the consumer
but, as we know, when you are looking at egg products transparency
is much more difficult because you cannot label them, but in addition
the key people are the processors who buy these products.
Q68 Thomas Docherty:
What activities are either you or your sister organisationsI
am thinking particularly of, say, Spainundertaking to encourage
or ensure the compliance of these other countries with the directive?
David Bowles: We
work through the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, which has representatives
in each of the 27 EU Member States. I have to say that the strength
of the organisation varies between those statesfrom the
UK where the RSPCA is a £110 million organisation, down to
Greece where you have a couple of people and a typewriter, so
it is a very different situation in those countries. But from
day one when the directive was passed we clearly said to each
of those organisations that they needed to go out and lobby their
retailers and make clear to consumers that a changeover was to
happen and they should be shifting in terms of their consumer-buying
patterns. What has happened in the 12-year period from 1999 to
now is that you start to see that change take place. In Italy,
even in Spain, and in Greece you see companies changing over to
being cage free, not just with retailers. For instance, the Netherlands
went cage free in retailers long before the UK. The UK still
has not gone cage free with all retailers. So a number of countries
have gone further than the UK.
Q69 Thomas Docherty:
Does the directive meet your concerns about cage production?
Alice Clark: We
can say that it is definitely a step forward. We would hate to
see that not being enforced across Europe, and that all the efforts
the UK industry has put into it are undermined. It is not to
the extent that we would like to see it, but I reiterate that
it is certainly a step forward.
Q70 Thomas Docherty:
Is there a form of cage production that you would support?
Alice Clark: Any
kind of production that we would support would have to meet the
full needs of the birds. As it stands, there is no evidence that
a cage system can meet the full behavioural and physical needs
of the birds. One thing highlighted in a Commission report a
couple of years ago was that the enriched cage still did not allow
for the full repertoire of the birds. Particularly when you are
looking at foraging and dust bathing, those kinds of behaviours
cannot be fully carried out in a cage situation.
Q71 Thomas Docherty:
Given the cost to the producer of moving to completely free range,
and also the cost to the consumer that I imagine is passed on,
how feasible is it that we can move to an EU-wide completely free
range system any time soon?
Alice Clark: Free
range might be difficult, but you have to remember that there
are higher welfare systems in terms of keeping them indoors in
barns where they do not have outside access but still have the
facilities inside, as they would have in a free range house, which
allows them access to litter so they can dust bathe, forage and
perch. They have free movements around the shed to exercise and
move away from each other. That should certainly be a consideration
in terms of farmers deciding to which system to change. Economic
work that we did in 2006 looked at the costs to producers who
had conventional barren cages and had to make the decision of
which system to go to. The costs are quite comparable when you
look at changing to an enriched cage system and some versions
of the barn system.
Q72 George Eustice:
I just want to press you on the point about how big a step forward
this is. To come back to a question I asked earlier, how much
better does a chicken feel being in an A4 plus 50% space, compared
with the current system?
Alice Clark: It
is fabulous to have that kind of Europe-wide recognition that
the barren cage is not good enough, and there are inherent problems
with the cage. You are just not in a situation where you will
meet those needs at all. What we have now is a cage that is a
little better. It gives a little more space; it tries to provide
for those different behaviours like the addition of perching,
but it is still not a situation where you can compare it with
the alternative systems.
Q73 George Eustice:
What do you say about the new colony system where birds can fly
around and move more freely?
Alice Clark: As
I have seen with the enriched cages, they still meet the requirements
as set out in the directive, but from experience I think they
have started to use them for larger groups of birds. They are
still to the letter of the directive, as I understand it, but
typically they will use 60 to 80 birds as Mark Williams said.
David Bowles: The
directive is important for two things. Alice has covered welfare.
Do not forget that the directive was implemented on the back
of scientific reports from the Scientific Veterinary Committee,
and there was a further report from the European Food Safety Authority
(EFSA) in 2004, so the science is very clear. But from a
totemic animal welfare point of view this is really the first
time that we are moving from what can be termed an intensive production
system to a less intensive one. As a totemic issue it is reversing
what has happened in European farming over the last 40 years,
so from that perspective it is very important not just for laying
hens but farming in general.
Q74 Richard Drax:
The Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Bristol,
Professor C. Nicol, said that good management may be more important
for welfare than systems. That is her view. Do you think UK
producers are sufficiently aware of and have knowledge of the
impact of welfare systems on chickens?
Alice Clark: The
impact in terms of management?
Q75 Richard Drax:
Are they aware of the impact of management systems on the chickens?
Alice Clark: Management
is absolutely critical. A free range unit will not necessarily
be a good one if it is not managed well. The change in the legislation
is based on the fact that some production systems inherently will
not be good for the birds. Within the Freedom Food schemes run
by the RSPCA, the standards we have developed go above and beyond
the basic minimum in the legislation and cover management in detail,
so it is something we would recommend all farmers start thinking
about more. Certainly, in all sectors of agricultural livestock
veterinary health planning is becoming more widely used within
the farming industry, looking at management and training, as Mark
talked about before.
Q76 Amber Rudd:
Mr Bowles, you talked earlier about your conviction that consumers
take account of animal welfare when buying eggs. To what extent
do you think that might continue to be effective in terms of consumers
buying egg products?
David Bowles: In
that respect you have a major problem with egg products, in that
it is much more difficult to be transparent about the information.
It is very difficult to label ice cream or, even further away
from that, to label what goes into wine, for instance, which is
sometimes made from egg products. You have to get across that
transparency boundary and that is where retailers, processors
or producers, particularly in the food industry sector, are so
important. For instance, when Hellmann's Mayonnaise made the
decision a couple of years ago to move to 100% free range eggs
that was a really important decision because they made the choice
for the consumers. When you go into your supermarket and buy
Hellmann's Mayonnaise, I imagine most people do not know they
are buying free range eggs; they are buying Hellmann's Mayonnaise
as a brand, but the decision has been taken for them by the company,
Unilever in this respect. When Unilever went over to free range
in all their Western European products it was a really important
decision because it pulled through a lot of producers.
Q77 Amber Rudd:
That is very interesting. How do we convince customers that there
is recognisable value in food produced to higher welfare standards
not only in the UK but throughout the EU? Obviously, some recognise
that but what else can we do to increase that reach?
David Bowles: I
think we have been very successful with eggs in particular. Eggs
are the easiest thing. I think the reason we have been so successful
in convincing consumers to go for free range or systems other
than cage is that a cage is very emotive; it is a very simple
thing for them to understand. If you are talking about chickens
or pigs, it is very difficult to get across the method of production
very simply. With the egg industry we have had a very clear advantage,
in that the terms are very easy to convey. I think that is why
there has been a 2% to 3% increase year on year in the UK, and
also changes happening in other countries.
Q78 Dan Rogerson:
We have talked a bit about the potential competitive disadvantage
if what is predicted actually happens next year. Obviously, the
EU Commission are looking at how they can deal with that. What
do you think needs to be done to ensure that UK producers are
not at a competitive disadvantage?
David Bowles: The
RSPCA point of view is that, first, the directive needs to be
implemented entirely on 1 January; secondly, that UK producers
who, as Mark Williams said in his evidence, have made the effort
to change over should be protected from being undercut by producers
in other countries that are acting illegally. The Commission have
a choice: either they go down the route of compliance, which is
taking a country to the European Court of Justice and then fining
itwe all know that that takes a bit of time and the fine
may not be commensurate with the damage they have doneor
there is a national ban to stop the eggs coming into the UK.
The RSPCA is sympathetic to the fact that you may need to have
national bans, because I do not think we will see compliance in
Spain and Poland with the directive by 1 January. My main concern
is to ensure that producers in the UK who have changed over and
are farming with a higher welfare system are not undercut by a
producer in another country that is acting illegally and farming
with a lower welfare system.
Q79 Dan Rogerson:
Talking about non-EU countries, which is an issue we have raised,
do you think that kind of approach should also be taken in terms
of banning things produced to a lower standard? That is a pretty
big step in terms of how trade issues are usually dealt with.
What is your view on that?
David Bowles: Here
we are getting into World Trade Organisation territory. As the
Committee is probably aware, we are in the process of having the
first ever animal welfare challenge at the WTO. Canada has taken
the European Union to the WTO on its seal import ban. That will
be a really important challenge, because for the first time the
WTO will have to make a decision as to how animal welfare sits
with its rules. Let us say the WTO does not allow trade bans
on animal welfare grounds. Therefore, the responsibility for
ensuring that we do not import eggs that are produced at lower
standards than those produced in the EUfor example, barren
battery cage eggslies firmly with the people who are importing
those, so that is retailers. As far as I am aware, every retailer
to whom I have spoken and every member of EuroGAP imports at standards
that are at the European baseline, so they are not importing below
that standard. But we then get into the products side of it.
There may well be processors post-2012 who are importing using
barren battery cages. That is a real problem. They need to be
convinced that they should have their own Corporate Social Responsibility
(CSR) standards that are at EU baseline standards.
Q80 George Eustice:
To press you on that, do you think it is good enough just to rely
on the retailers in that situation to enforce a ban? Should we
not just knock heads together and sort out the WTO in this regard?
David Bowles: The
European Commission could be bold and stop imports. They could
also ensure that we do not lower our tariffs. We have the ongoing
Doha development round, which ironically has been going for as
long as the battery hen ban in 1999. Unfortunately, we are even
further from getting a resolution on that. But we do not want
them to reduce the tariffs to give the incentive for egg products
to come into the EU. I think everyone has a role to play: the
NGOs, to make sure consumers are aware and ask for products that
are not produced illegally in the EU; the retailers; and processors.
Everybody has a responsibility. We have talked to the Commission
before about introducing a ban on imports that are not produced
to EU standards. I would have to say they are lukewarm about
it at the moment.
Q81 George Eustice:
But it is a bit upside down, is it not, to be able to ban imports
from a European Union countryit is supposed to be a free
trade areabut not imports from a country outside the EU
that has an even worse system?
David Bowles: Yes,
but do not forget that the EU has banned imports internally in
the market anyway but only for animal health reasons. For instance,
the UK was itself subject to a ban when the BSE issue arose.
That has now happily been rescinded. We have never had an internal
ban on animal welfare grounds, although it is allowed under the
Treaty of Rome. The language of the Treaty of Rome is very similar
to that of the WTO. So if the Commission decides that it wants
to do an internal ban on animal welfare grounds, maybe a good
question to put is: if it is good enough for an internal ban,
why is it not good enough for an external one?
Q82 Neil Parish:
The recent financial crisis and credit restrictions have made
borrowing for reinvestment difficult. This has been further compounded
by poor returns for egg producers and record feed prices. In
your memorandum you say that English producers have not been eligible
for Government support but this has not had a crucial effect on
their competitiveness. What is the basis for your assertion on
David Bowles: There
are two things. First, as far as we are aware there are only
three countries that have given assistance to egg producers, one
being Scotland. Secondly, if you look at the changeover of production
standards in England, even after the Scottish Government gave
assistance to farmers there has not been a slow-down in changing
over. That changeover is still happening. I assume from that
that English producers are still competitive, and because the
number and amount of grants was quite small I do not think it
really affected competitiveness that much, though it must be galling
for English producers to see their Scottish counterparts getting
money when they have not.
Neil Parish: One thing
we must remember is that the egg and pig industries do not get
a single farm payment or money from the CAP, so they have to remain
extremely competitive. I think we agree on all sides that we
have to make sure that imports do not come in from countries that
apply lower standards. That is what we have to work together
on, isn't it?
Q83 Thomas Docherty:
I apologise if you are not the right group to ask, and perhaps
I should have asked this question earlier. What is the relationship
with the Crown dependencies and British overseas territories on
these rules? I am not aware of how many eggs we import from the
Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, or the other way, but where
would they sit? Obviously, they are outside the EU although they
have a special trade relationship with the European Union, so
how would they be affected on 1 January?
David Bowles: The
simple answer is that as far as I am aware no Crown dependency
has a huge egg-producing sector. I am thinking of places like
Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.
Q84 Thomas Docherty:
I was thinking in terms of the Channel Islands and the Isle of
David Bowles: There
is no big industry there.
Neil Parish: I think they
should have to meet the same standards if they come into the European
market, shouldn't they? I think that is how it stands, but whether
they do is another matter.
Q85 Chair: I want
to follow up the point about competitiveness. In paragraph 6
of your memorandum you say that "Defra has not taken up any
of the seven measures to improve animal welfare available to it
under the ERDP," the English Rural Development Programme.
Of course, if they did use that money it would not be available
for other matters on which it is currently being spent; it would
be diverted, would it not?
David Bowles: That
is precisely correct, and that is why they did not use it.
Q86 George Eustice:
On that point, it is pretty clear that you would like to see an
acceleration to a free range/barn system everywhere. Do you think
there is a danger, given that DEFRA is digging in its heels and
refusing to help support farmers to make the change, that once
they have made that investment in the new cages and the new system,
it moves your ultimate goal of a barn system further away than
ever because people have done that bit? They have ticked the
box and say they have improved welfare, but now they have made
that investment it is harder to say they should get rid of it
altogether and go to a barn system.
Alice Clark: I
think we could continue to see demand for eggs from alternative
systems. Something like that is so hard to predict, but I think
there is a massive demand for it from consumers. Retailers are
making big changes. They are not just changes that have been
made; there are promises and pledges to make changes in future
on the processing side, as well as the shell eggs and the retail
Q87 George Eustice:
Leaving aside the market-led side, which I completely understandhopefully,
it will growin terms of the very minimum standard set down
in regulation, by opting for a slightly bigger cage-plus system,
an enriched cage system, and getting everyone to make the investment
in that, have you made it harder to introduce legislation at a
future date that says we are not having cages at all?
Alice Clark: I
think that when any legislation comes in you have to bear in mind
the investment people have made and have a phase-out time. This
legislation has shown that you have to do that. It is certainly
a consideration but this is the position we are in, so I think
that for now you have to base it on that.
David Bowles: The
history of European animal welfare legislation is that usually,
you ratchet up the standards. For instance, the first legislation
on animal welfare on eggs was in 1986. Then we had the 1999 change.
The same goes for pigs and calves. But having got to where we
are, we are happy with the directive. Of course we did not get
everything we wanted, but we are happy with the directive as it
is. We will not go back to the Commission next year or the year
after and ask them to change the legislation. We are happy with
what we have got, and we think consumer power will change those
sectors certainly within the UK but possibly in other countries
Chair: Thank you very
much indeed for being so generous with your time this afternoon
and for your contribution to our inquiry.