VEGA News Item

Consultation on Responsibility and Cost Sharing for Animal Health and Welfare - 14/03/2007
VEGA comments on a Defra consultation on responsibility and cost sharing for animal health and welfare.
VEGA comments on a Defra consultation on responsibility and cost sharing for animal health and welfare.

1. In many consultations and meetings with DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency, and the Home Office, as well as representatives of the farming and food industry, we have tried to assert consistency in the treatment and relationship of all animals (of which we are one species) and the common environment. Deliberations over the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and Act have emphasized the need for such objectivity and changes (with increasing prosperity) of human attitudes and respect shift appreciation of the “less equal” animals in the way we abuse, misuse, use and, employ them. In the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s (FAWC) Five Freedoms we have a declaration of animal rights of general relevance (if only because farmers rear animals for purposes other than food) and treatments and breeding of “spoilt”, pets, and companion animals are aspects of domination and domestication that cause disruptions of the innate behaviour of the kept livestock and their commercial exploitation; many examples can be cited in the practices in zoos, circuses, leisure (for humans) activities.

2. Animal welfare must also comprehend the work and dignity of humans used and employed in the “offensive trades” of killing, culling, and experimenting on non-human animals. They represent crude manifestations of the struggle and competition for survival, territory, safety, and immunity waged with unique predatory ferocity for which the relevance of the war-like vocabulary of slaughter, massacre, and torture is lamentably close. The 19th century Cruelty to Animals Act was aptly titled. With animals of all species we should be proud in developing a heritage of coexistence in which we employ others rather than use them, which usage of language harmonizes with the teachings of the Old Testament and Qur’an, even if these have been sullied by vicious practices.

3. In our experience the FSA’s Chief Vet has repeatedly averred that the Agency was not concerted with welfare. This attitude dismays originators of the Agency, for which Standards connoted a broader and worthier purview that Safety alone; and it has come to distinguish “our” FSA from copies in other countries where nothing beyond Safety (for consumption of humans) is implied. “Our” FSA has to assess standards for imported, transhipped, and manufactured foods, as well as activities down on home farm, which is where the functions of the FSA and DEFRA are likely to meet and overlap.

4. On the other hand other representatives of the FSA talk of labelling and definitions involving terms such as natural, organic, and free-range which must impress the general public with corollaries in care and welfare for animals and wellbeing for the environment. Scoring and warnings on these matters are being called for and reference to HAS scores (now Audit Categories) for meat plants and to compliance with the Five Freedoms are being cited as indicators of feasibility of such intentions, which would surpass the bottom line of the Red Tractor scheme and the like.

5. The recent outbreak of avian flu in a poultry factory in Suffolk and the preparations for larger outbreaks of such zoonoses and culling on a massacre scale, together with movements of “products” and migrations of wildlife within Europe and possibly extending globally, provide lessons in the subject of the present consultation. If DEFRA’s responsibilities concentrate mainly on the live part of live/deadstock industry, the FSA might represent more the dead, with demarcation at the point of arrival at the premises or at the point of killing in the slaughterhouse, there will still be much overlap: for one thing, the pathology reports compiled by meat inspectors and reasons for rejected meat and offals can throw much light on conditions and standards under DEFRA’s control, and it must be a task for the FSA to facilitate its contribution, possibly through a coordinating group to ensure consistency in interpretations of standards of welfare and hygiene.

6. At the moment the preparations and practice in the outbreak of avian flu seem to show DEFRA and the FSA collaborating responsibly, albeit with untoward coyness over welfare aspects in the mode of culling and the reticence of the media to offer the public an objective commentary on the practice and results.

7. With poultry, a little-subsidized farming industry, compensations for the culling required by the State Veterinary Service were excessive, seeing that severe shortcomings in husbandry were revealed and the industry is pleading for withdrawal from the stipulations, cost and levies to satisfy the Meat Hygiene Service. Nonetheless, the industry enjoys the MHS’s presence and supervision as a protection and inhibitor of private litigation that the public might otherwise resort to on the basis of evidence accumulated by EHOs and TSOs and from the FSA. Such industries must be required to indemnify themselves against such disasters. As with errant drivers of vehicles bad practices would attract higher premiums and rid the industry of bad performers. A shard of glass or another contaminant in bread, baked beans, or houmous requires the manufacturer to clear all stocks in the retailers and to confiscate suspect goods. Prudent manufacturers of foods (and other household goods) take care to avoid claims on insurers and from injured parties, and the public is protected. The live/deadstock industry must meet its responsibilities likewise.

8. Some farmers and producers in the food chain complain that the insurance industry will not take on such business. If this is so, DEFRA and FSA must explain to the public that the British farming and food industries cannot produce commodities to the appropriate standards. The aftermaths of the BSE and food-and-mouth epidemics revealed the appallingly low standards and practices in a food chain that needs the combined efforts of the FSA and DEFRA to overcome the tolls exacted by complicity and connivance – and the over-compensated – workings and costs of intensified production of meretriciously cheap food.

Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008