Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1089-1099)




  1089. Dr Clark, thank you very much indeed for coming to see us this afternoon and helping in our deliberations. Might I ask you to begin with a short, opening, introductory statement saying who you are and what you represent?

  (Dr Clark) First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to meet with you today. My purpose for being here is as chairwoman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. For those of you who are perhaps not fully aware of what that council is, we are a government appointed, but at the same time independent of government, advisory committee. Our role as a council is to advise ministers in what was the Department of Agriculture, now DEFRA, on all aspects of animal welfare in relation to farm animals, be they on a farm, in transport to markets and in slaughter, the whole gamut of farm animal welfare. We are a council of just over 20 individuals. We are appointed by the Minister but we are appointed in an independent capacity. We do not represent any bodies other than our own opinions and the membership is very wide ranging. We have farmers on board; we have veterinarians, such as myself; we have people who represent the slaughter industry; we have animal welfarists; we have consumers. It is a very widespread membership intended to look at farm animal welfare from the perspective of the entire public view.

  1090. Are the present laws and regulations governing the use of farm animals for scientific procedures, such as licensing, ERPs, inspections, working well and how could they be improved, if at all?
  (Dr Clark) The view of my council is that the current laws and regulations which govern the use of animals in research do work reasonably well for farm animals in that there are no specific areas where farm animals are so significantly different that they require a different set of regulations. We feel that the principle of a cost benefit analysis in terms of reviewing proposals for research is a very good one. Where we have a problem—and it is something which has taxed us since back in the early 1990s when the Banner Committee was sitting and looking at the implications of emerging technologies in agriculture and we gave evidence to that committee—is that, although the cost benefit analysis takes place in reviewing the proposals for research, the problems arise when the results of that research then move out of the research laboratory into commercial agriculture. In a nutshell, our strong belief is that there needs to be something at that early stage that is looking at the consequences of the decisions that may be taken. This is probably something that is unique to the farming field, or at least only certain limited parts of animal kind that are exposed to such research, because there is a clear, commercial impediment associated with the outcomes of much of this research. At the present time, there is no structure by which that review takes place. We have set up an interim, `let us try and get by' structure which is myself and two other people on the council meeting with the chairman of the Animal Procedures Committee and two people from that committee on about a once per year basis, but it is a very informal meeting. I and my council do not believe that this is really serving the function that we need to address here.

  1091. What would serve the function?
  (Dr Clark) That is an excellent question. We produced a report for government in 1998 on cloning when we were invited to look at the impact of cloning. That provided us with a very neat example of a technology that had been developed in the laboratory in mice but was now emerging and was going to be appearing as a potential technology with farm animals and at that point we did not know how rapidly that development may take place. We used that as an opportunity to consider the implications specifically of cloning but also to look at this as an example of that sort of technology. We felt at that time, and it is still our belief, that there is a need for some form of over arching body that reviews, from an ethical and moral perspective as well as a pure welfare perspective, what the consequences of decisions taken in research laboratories may be. It is not just necessarily being able to horizon scan, as I think the term now is, at the early days and pick up what the potential consequences might be, but being observant through the whole period so that you see things emerging which might have agricultural impact. I can give another example: embryo transfer, going back to the 1980s. Embryo transfer was developed in the laboratory and then became a technology used commonly in agriculture before the regulations were set up to control it. As a consequence of that—I say this now wearing my hat as a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the council of that body—the Royal College had to move very rapidly with government at the time to set in place some regulations that would safeguard the welfare of the animals exposed to that technology.

Chairman: We will want to probe you on the difference between laboratory experiments on rodents and farm animals because it struck us very much, when we visited some of the scientific experiments on farm animals, that there was almost a world of difference between the laboratory and the experimental farm and how far the present legislative framework easily fits with both.

Lord Taverne

  1092. In the cost benefit analysis, would it not be possible to weigh on the cost side the consequences? The example you gave, breeding more effectively milk producing cows, led to mastitis. Is not that something which should be mentioned as part of the costs in the cost benefit analysis? Similarly, with the chickens which grow faster but have weaker legs that may cause pain. Is that not something that could be taken into account in deciding whether you do this kind of selective breeding or experiment?
  (Dr Clark) You are quite right in terms of the techniques that I talked about—for example, embryo transfer. I think that could have been picked up and a far sighted body would have picked it up. The two examples you give are examples of the second leg of my argument, which is that there are significant things that happen which are outside the regulations of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. For example, the improved breeding of cattle, if we can call it improved, to increase their milk yield. A lot of that would have occurred outside the protection of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act or its precursor. Likewise, selective breeding of poultry, the broiler chicken, which has now resulted in a bird that is likely to be clinically lame by the time it is eight weeks old, if it were allowed to grow that old, because of the weight of the body on the bones. That development happened without any protection of any legislation that relates to research because it is being done within the industry.

  1093. Had it been an experiment, it could or should have been taken into account?
  (Dr Clark) It could indeed. My belief and that shared by my council is that, on the one hand, we have a whole body of work that is going on that has major consequences to the welfare of farm animals in this country and internationally which is totally unreviewed in the legislation which we are considering today. On the other hand, some of the research that we at FAWC would like to see done and would want to encourage people to do is finding that the current regulations are an impediment to that happening because the paperwork to carry out behavioural studies, for example, which may be of only mild consequence for the animals or the procedures classed as mild procedures is so voluminous and it takes so long to get approval that it is an impediment to encouraging people to carry out this work.

  1094. It is another example of bureaucracy working against animal welfare.
  (Dr Clark) It is. On the one hand, we have a whole area of work that is not even included and, on the other hand, we have some work that is included that seems to be rather excessively considered. I am not in any way wanting procedures that involve substantial or even moderate severity to come outside the ambit of the legislation because we believe that it is a very good piece of legislation and the cost benefit analysis provides a very good base for that. However, we do believe there is room for possibly identifying a wider group of research projects that are only mild and saying, "Let's have a different way of reviewing those, but still look at the consequences of that work. Think about it in terms of consequences."

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1095. When one moves from new experimental development that is going to be of value in commercial agriculture, is there a time period that is allowed or required to make sure that those new technologies, whatever they might be, are valid?
  (Dr Clark) No. There is no formal testing process. If you are thinking about the parallel of perhaps veterinary medicines, whereby there is a process that the potential medicine goes through in terms of testing before it is permitted to be used, that is not the same case with regard to technologies. It is quite feasible for these technologies to quite rapidly emerge from the laboratory into mainstream agricultural practice. There of course the controls are much less. I am not criticising farmers at this point because in my discussions with farmers they say the same thing. They would like to feel that there is more control before these technologies arrive on their door step, more assurances that they are going to work and that they are not going to have problems of welfare with them.

  1096. Would it be useful to have a phasing in period, according to what the development was, to guard against problems?
  (Dr Clark) That would be an excellent idea. I am always loath to propose yet more committees but some sort of over arching structure that could guide that process through is a good idea, because there will not be a different set of rules for every single development, as I am sure you can appreciate. Each one will almost need to be tailored according to what the particular problems may be and how large scale the test should be before it is opened up to mainstream agriculture as commercial practice.

Baroness Eccles of Moulton

  1097. Presumably, selective breeding does not qualify as an experiment?
  (Dr Clark) It does not and that is part of this whole area I am saying is outside the Act.

  1098. The anxieties are really arising from the new science—i.e., genetic modification, gene therapy, etc?
  (Dr Clark) To a considerable extent, except if one could turn the clock back 30 years when we were first starting to develop the broiler chicken, I would like to think that we would do things a bit better now. I am not convinced that the mechanisms are currently in place that would enable us to do so. If I can bring you right to the present, in that same analogy, we are just embarking upon a scheme in this country to identify Scrapie resistant genes in our sheep population. Nobody at this time is considering what that might mean in terms of a welfare consequence. If we select for a particular genetic trait in the entire sheep population, it may only be in certain breeds of sheep or it may be throughout the population, but we may uncover things that have significant welfare problems. At this stage, that is not a consideration in that programme as far as I am aware. I am giving you a 30 year old example and a modern day example to show that things have not, in my view and the view of my council, moved very much in that time.

  1099. It would not have been possible, through selective breeding, to eliminate the Scrapie gene or could you, by accident almost?
  (Dr Clark) Yes. Had it been a lethal gene, it would have selectively bred itself out. I am not a geneticist but because it has very little impact on the animals themselves and it is very difficult to identify, it would be very difficult, without the modern technology that allows us to pick that up, to be able to.


previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002