VEGA's response to the FAWC consultation
1. We welcome the FAWC’s initiative. It is long overdue but timely as it chimes in with DEFRA’s current preparation of an Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain. These considerations extend to responsibilities of the Departments of Health, Education, and Trade and Industry and the Home Office and aim to be objectively kind: a rat is a rat whether a treasured pet, a subject for experimentation, or a pest; and the dairy cow and her calf deserve stockmanship and observance of the Five Freedoms as much as the commercially more valuable and obvious racehorse or police horse. The culture of cheap, fast food has undermined decency and respect in the treatment of animals.
2. We are concerned that the FAWC starts compromised by complicity in systems long discredited and thus setting a flawed example to arbiters of training schemes, who will therefore be motivated to avoid challenges when the politicians must be exposed as agents in blunting the sharpness of the animals’ cause. The FAWC should lead as shop stewards on the animals’ behalf and resist political and commercial opposition dominated by antagonistic factors in human comfort and convenience and concepts of welfare.
3. It is difficult to see the FAWC (and likewise the Food Standards Agency when it can be persuaded to take a rigorous plough-to-plate stance) in this light: it is rather like a body of slave owners, albeit enlightened, posturing as arbiters of conditions of health and welfare for the slaves, without effective expression of the lower orders’ view. Assessment of the FAWC and its authority to teach requires more than declarations of the members’ sources of wealth, but how much as purchasers and consumers they are implicated, through personal choice, in practices they purport to condemn or reform. The public cannot pay much heed to representatives professing kindness to animals who are not moved by their own evidence to practise as customers and consumers at least desistance if not resistance. The FAWC seeks a ban on halal and Jewish methods of slaughter; do the members give orotund testimony of informed endeavour to ensure that they are so persuaded into the appropriate abstentions and denial of benefit-of-doubt? The FAWC and its trainees must be informed and encouraged in the spirit of consumers who respond effectively as meat-reducers and dairy-frees in their purchases of cruelty-free commodities – whether as clothing, toiletries or food.
4. Basic courses and certification at school level should offer a general grounding for owners, handlers, transporters, farmers and vets in respectful coexistence with the animal world. This should be followed by courses at a higher level in which greater competence and responsibility are required. The Five Freedoms should inform instruction at all levels. The concept should be generalised and extended to anticipate its relevance to carers and owners likely to be involved in functions such as these:
Farming and the live / deadstock industry (i.e. handlers, transporters, dealers, slaughterers, knackers, farriers, shearers and artificial inseminators, and in all aspects of the poultry industry)
Fishing for food, feed, pharmaceuticals and fertiliser
Racing (horse, greyhound, pigeon), eventing, steeplechasing
Games, “sports”, angling, hunting and gamekeeping
Zoos, circuses, aquaria
Experimentation and production and farming of antibodies, eggs and products (e.g. from genetically engineered animals for medicinal purposes)
5. For groups of specialised species stockpersons should acquire training, certification, licensing and refresher training for their limited areas. Licences for all species should be withheld or withdrawn after offences committed in one area. The regulation, licensing and certification must raise the status of husbandry in all aspects of health, hygiene and welfare, these all too frequently being incongruent aims.
6. The FAWC can now enjoy encouragement from the evidence adduced in the BSE Inquiry and from revelations of malign farming practices leading to the eruptions of foot-and-mouth disease, as well as from other malpractices exposed in the FSA’s investigations, to campaign objectively over the damage and cost cheap food and intensification have wrought. Many statements made last year to the Curry Commission on farming policies add more weight to campaigns to raise the lowly status of the farming end of the food chain and the workers it attracts. Salutary dietary end environmental benefits ensue.
7. The veterinary profession are not well trained in animal behaviour and welfare. Vets’ practices in farming areas are devoting more resources to the lucrative and less arduous demands for pets and exotics. Stocking densities and herd and flock sizes are being increased against a declining labour force. Culling rather than nursing care is the low-cost (and inordinately subsidised) solution accorded to millions of captive birds and other animals attended by uncaring and poorly-paid workers in squalid conditions. The FAWC should do more with well-qualified warnings that “milk from contented cows” and “meat with a smile on its face” are shams with which it will have no truck.
8. Well-versed vets and animal welfarists must gain every opportunity for inspections and presence on premises where animals are kept, and major retailers should monitor their suppliers with independent animal welfare advisers with rights of unannounced visits.
Dr. Alan Long
Hon. Research Adviser