VEGA News Item

VEGA on FAWC's Policy Instruments for Improving Animal Welfare - 31/08/2007
VEGA comments on an FAWC consultation...

FAWC Opinion on Policy Instruments for Improving Animal Welfare

The Animal Welfare Act 2006. The working of the Act needs regular monitoring and review. We are not satisfied that sanctuaries and collections of animals kept for reasons other than production of food, skins, and other 5th quarter by-products (and for leisure pastimes and field “sports” and wild fowling) are adequately covered by present legislation. Petting farms and zoos, for instance, have commercial significance (e.g. as tourist attractions and farming or for breeding purposes in the poultry industry or for rare or exotic species, possibly as adjuncts to such activities e.g. maggots). Farming and other commensals, some regarded as nuisances or pests (whereas others of the species may be treated as pets or companion animals or be farmed, e.g. rats, badgers, squirrels, rabbits, certain birds, seals, and fish), deserve decent conditions even if extermination is intended (which could mean stricter control or banning of snares and traps and baits). Means of selective fertility control need support for physiologists, environmentalists, and the pharmaceutical industry working on FAWC-inspired projects.

Public compensation. Owners, keepers, and custodians of any animals should be trained and licensed in the duties of care and therefore be required to indemnify themselves against losses involved in failed controls of health and welfare. Insurance companies would therefore administer a level of monitoring and control relieving some of the burden on the Treasury, local authorities, and charitable bodies (and independent prosecution by the public). Powers of entry should be established.

Institutional arrangements. The FAWC would do well to examine its unalloyed competence as the non-human animals’ defender or advocate. As a corporate customer of catering, for instance, it should manifest avoidance in a practical way of any practices it specifically condemns, e.g. products of Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter. Such demonstrations would support advice and guidance from European organizations such as DIALREL (www.dialrel.eu). Vets employed by the MHS are charged with the welfare of livestock in slaughterhouses and the appropriate curtilages and they are also in a position to appraise from meat inspections the conditions and handling the stock had experienced on the farm and during transit from there to the slaughterhouse; therefore, they should be well represented on the FAWC. Likewise, it should prove to be an attractive option for committed animal welfarists and ethicists to balance representatives from industry and commerce who may be accomplices in practices in treatments that violate the FAWC’s corporate agenda.

Incentives. Commercial competition on animal welfare should be encouraged. The pig industry has demonstrated signs of this. The 5 Freedoms should be used as standards for scoring such as the HAS assessments for hygiene. Claims and labeling should serve these purposes too. The Food Standards Agency is not just a Food Safety Agency: it should show greater attention to the animal welfare (which would include humans) and environmental connections in the farm-to-fork philosophy; it should therefore work closely with FAWC.

Self Regulation. An industry so recently incriminated in the disasters of BSE and FMD, for example, is not fit for the purposes of self-regulation. The SVS should be strengthened and the presence of independent and skilled vets be felt from farm to fork. The imbalance in veterinary practice must be redressed.

Labelling. The comprehensive requirements should at least include methods and place of slaughter for meat and fish. If packaging or point-of-sale material provides limited space, resort to easy access websites should be provided (including in-store).

Education. Appreciation of evolution and animal behavior should inform all curricula and the subject should be included in courses on citizenship run in the extra year in schooling.

Ethics, religion, and all that. Hermann Goehring, when challenged about the bombing of civilian populations in Guernica, Rotterdam, London and so on, is reported to have exclaimed: “When I hear the word ethics, I reach for my revolver”. In the present veterinary context the weapon that the grant of massacres of the incident might be the captive bolt pistol. FAWC should engage in these tricky challenges of social responsibility and care, as the recent disgraceful antics at the Skanda Vale farm in Wales demonstrate; and they are likely to continue. The public therefore deserves stronger example and leadership from the veterinary profession and advocates professing authority for their respect and care for the non-human world. Setting, say, the medical profession and the Red Cross on the one hand and the vets and RSPCA on the other, we have to contrast the medics opposition to capital punishment and their call for it to be banned; but if that fails, they will attend to vender the sufferers the best professional attendance and nursing they can offer in the appalling circumstances. Further, the medical profession has been notable in tackling commercial and political pressures in altruistic campaigns for the common good in manifold contexts, e.g. to confront the evils of poverty, war, commercialism, smoking, and alcoholism. The FAWC should now require from the veterinary profession a more urgent and less compromised expression, in the louder voice of humanity (rather than entangled in religious and ethical dogmas) in the enslavement of animals caught up in systems serving the comforts, convenience, and greed of their own species.

We applaud FAWC’s initiative in posing the questions prompting opinion. Our foregoing comments cover the views solicited in the second questionnaire. However, we must repeat our testimony of the power of the policy instrument that FAWC cannot ignore any longer: dietary demand based on firm evidence of health, environmental, agronomic, and animal welfare factors are now so powerful that they outweigh many other intended practical improvements. FAWC should therefore proclaim and practice its support for policies to these ends.  

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