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Animal Welfare - Recent Reports and Comments

Animal Welfare vol 19 issue 2 Volume 19
Issue 1
Febraury 2010

A life worth living? A strategy for UK farm animals in the 21st century that moves on from just the prevention of poor welfare

Arguably, the most important and far-reaching report on the welfare of farm animals was the UK’s Brambell Committee report of 1965. This set the long-term agenda for policy on farm animal welfare in Britain and, in that it contained the first exposition of the principles that have come to be known as ‘The Five Freedoms’, internationally too, and not only in farm animal welfare.

The recently published report by the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council, itself formed as a result of a recommendation in the Brambell report, considers policy developments since this seminal report and whether Brambell’s vision for animals farmed either intensively or extensively has been realised. The report is split into six sections which variously address ethical considerations for the humane treatment of farm animals, current policies and their implementation and welfare assessment, indicators and surveillance. Furthermore, and central to the FAWC report, it seeks to set the agenda and strategy for the next twenty years.

At the heart of FAWC’s agenda setting is a shifting of focus, with a recommendation that policy moves beyond concern for the absence of cruelty and unnecessary suffering and a duty to provide for an animal’s needs to one that additionally seeks to ensure an acceptable quality of life over an animal’s lifetime. In this, it reflects much recent debate and discussion about animal welfare and captures the current zeitgeist. As with the Five Freedoms, when outlining this proposal FAWC comes up with something that seeks to encompass this view which is both catchy and easily understood, that of the concept of a ‘life worth living’.

Using this concept, FAWC recognises three states: ‘a life worth living’, ‘a good life’ and ‘a life not worth living’, and recommends that in future the minimum legal standard for the welfare of a farm animal should be a test of whether it has ‘a life worth living’. As it implies, any farm animal that fails this test should be judged to have ‘a life not worth living’ and “….. would be literally better off dead”. Such an animal “…..should either have its quality of life speedily enhanced, eg through veterinary attention or a change in its husbandry, or it should be killed promptly and humanely”. ‘A good life’ develops the concept further and defines this positive state as the life of those animals’ that experience a substantially higher standard of welfare than the minimum prescribed by the law and the provision of opportunities for an animal’s comfort, pleasure, interest and confidence.

But what is ‘a life worth living?’ The report defines it thus: “At one level — though this is not sufficient by itself — the balance of an animal’s experiences must be positive over its lifetime”, ie that the positive experiences should outweigh the negative. “Any pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm must be necessary, proportionate and minimal”. It also “…..requires provision of an animal’s needs and certain wants, and care by all involved. Wants are those resources that an animal may not need to survive or to avoid developing abnormal behaviour, but nevertheless improve its quality of life.”

Examples are given to further explain this concept. Vaccination and transport are highlighted by the report as acceptable practices in that, whilst they unavoidably cause pain and/or suffering, they are only short-lived and are countered by the benefit they bring or the weight of other positive experiences during a life that was otherwise worth living. Examples of a life not worth living include an animal that suffers from a severe debilitating disease that is untreatable, a severe physical state such as starvation or dehydration, and severe negative mental states, such as chronic, intense pain, fear or distress.

FAWC goes further than such generalisations however, and gives some very specific examples of areas where it has concerns. A “broiler chicken that starts to become lame between the second and fourth week of its life (which typically lasts six weeks) and then deteriorates further until it dies because it cannot reach drinkers and feed troughs would experience significant, unremitting pain and distress for about half its lifetime”. As such, FAWC concludes, the bird would not have had a life worth living. Similarly, “It is hard to conceive how certain systems of husbandry could ever satisfy the requirements of a good life because of their inherent limitations. Examples include the barren battery cage for laying hens, and the long-term housing of beef cattle on slats, denied access to pasture.”

There is much else within the report, on current UK policy and its implementation and suggestion for a future strategy for farm animal welfare in the UK that suggests it has the potential to be just as influential as the Brambell report it seeks to emulate. Certainly, it does not pull its punches. In discussing UK success in meeting the implicit goals outlined by Brambell, it states: “…..progress appears to have slowed recently: the proportion of farms that are classified as causing ‘unnecessary pain or distress’ in Animal Health’s surveys has not changed for the past nine years. This evidence of poor welfare, the lingering problems of endemic disease, the continued reliance on mutilations and behavioural restrictions suggest that the standard of welfare of farm animals has yet to reach a satisfactory level. In this sense, and despite the considerable progress that has been made since 1965, some would argue that the government has not fully discharged its responsibilities as the guardian of farm animal welfare in the UK. In the context of future strategy, policy and its implementation, there is more still to do to ensure that farm animal welfare is given proper consideration as part of a thriving livestock industry.”

FAWC concludes the report by recommending that the primary aim of any future strategy for farm animal welfare in Great Britain ought to be that every farm animal has a life worth living and that a growing number have a good life. Two secondary aims are also highlighted: i) to provide citizens with independent information about food, farming and farm animal welfare and ii) to establish market mechanisms that enable concerned consumers to make informed decisions about the welfare provenance of animal products, both home produced and imported.

For this new strategy to be effective, FAWC details eight conditions that must be fulfilled:

  1. The government acts as the guardian of farm animal welfare;
  2. Standards for a good life to be defined by an independent body;
  3. Minimum welfare standards to be defined by quality of life;
  4. Stockmen to be educated and trained to a high standard about animal welfare;
  5. Welfare assessment to be valid, feasible and rigorous with independent audit;
  6. The food supply chain to show due diligence with marketing claims verified;
  7. Citizens to be educated about food and farming from childhood;
  8. Animal products to be labelled according to welfare provenance to provide consumer choice.

Ten medium to long-term goals that relate to ensuring these conditions are met are also outlined, and FAWC states that it believes that it should be possible for the government and commerce to have policies in place to ensure their implementation by 2015. Finally, FAWC recommends that progress against these goals should be monitored independently and the results published.

Good though this report is, its true worth will ultimately depend on the UK government and regional assemblies response to it. It remains to be seen whether they will have the appetite to rise to the challenges it outlines but if they do then this report has the potential to take a place alongside the Brambell report as a key moment in the development of animal welfare policy in the UK.

Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present and Future (2009). Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK, A4, 70 pages. Available from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, Area 5A, 9 Millbank, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR and at http://www.fawc.org.uk/reports.htm

S Wickens,

Pedigree dog health and welfare: Findings of the APGAW inquiry

Anyone involved in the breeding of pedigree dogs in the UK has been living in interesting times of late. Since the screening of the documentary ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ on BBC television in August 2008, which alleged that the ‘ideal breed standards’ set by the Kennel Club have resulted in inbred, unhealthy pedigree dogs suffering from significant health and welfare problems, breeder practice has been under scrutiny like never before. Numerous reports, committees and press releases from a diverse range of organisations have all sought to further comment, either to defend current practice or to highlight concerns and recommend action. As a result, the UK government has been placed under considerable pressure to do something, to legislate and to regulate practice. This report, from the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) inquiry into the breeding of pedigree dogs is the latest of a long line of publications in this area, but one that marks a significant step in that it is one of two inquiries whose findings the government have stated they are awaiting before deciding upon their course of action (the other being the Bateson independent inquiry into dog breeding, published in January 2010).

The APGAW inquiry was set up in November 2008 with the remit of investigating welfare issues surrounding pedigree dogs in the UK, the identification of factors which may improve standards at all stages of dogs’ lives, and to provide advice on potential measures suitable for secondary legislation concerning the issue under the Animal Welfare Act. Split into seven sections, the APGAW report, based on evidence from all interested parties, outlines the background to the inquiry and the severity and scale of the problem, and addresses in turn the dog breeding world, the veterinary profession, legal requirements, the sale of dogs and the consumer and the funding of change.

Perhaps the most notable finding was that there are indeed serious problems with the health and welfare of many pedigree dogs and that measures should be taken to improve these. These measures, which are then detailed, are numerous and specific. Amongst these are the imposition of restrictions on the breeding of closely-related dogs and the number of times a sire can be used for breeding. The development of specific breeding strategies for different breeds of dogs, based upon genetic advice aimed at reducing the occurrence of health and welfare problems, is recommended. To assist this, the report indicates that a national database to collect information on the occurrences and extent of heredity diseases and health and welfare concerns for each breed should be set up. The report calls for health testing of dogs by veterinarians to identify hereditary and other diseases prior to breeding to become standard practice, and a legal necessity when selecting sires and dams for commercial breeding.

A role for the Kennel Club (KC) in the provision of information on health problems of different breeds and in the listing of breeders following recommended practice regarding health tests is identified. The inquiry felt that recommended practice should be outlined in each dog breed club’s Code of Ethics, which the inquiry also believed needed to be more rigorously policed, both by the clubs themselves and the KC. Indeed, in this whole area of enforcement of standards, the inquiry identified the KC as needing to be much more robust and active. The inquiry calls for the Kennel Club to make a decision as its primary role; that of the registration of dogs or of the promotion and improvement of dog health and welfare, with a clear steer given that APGAW believes it should be the latter.

Following on from this steer, the inquiry also states that KC breed standards should ensure that the confirmation they require ensure that a dog is ‘fit for purpose’ rather than simply meeting an arbitrarily set of standards based upon visual aesthetics. Further recommendations regarding which dogs are allowed to participate in KC dog shows and a requirement for health screening for involvement in these are also made, along with a greater role for the veterinarian in developing strategies to improve the health of dogs identified, through the issuing of health certificates. Puppy sale contracts to protect the consumer are called for and Defra is advised that it should take forward a public awareness campaign on the disadvantages of buying a puppy without careful consideration.

The inquiry was aware, however, that such voluntary calls and recommendations for action may not be sufficient to ensure the health and welfare of all dogs are adequately protected. In such a situation, the inquiry states that regulation of health and welfare standards will have to occur through the passing of relevant legislation, to include a code of good practice. The inquiry believes that the formation of an independent advisory body would be the best way to achieve this, which would provide advice and make recommendations through the KC to breed clubs and societies on the setting of breed standards and to advise the government on the need for further action. The timeframe that APGAW suggest for judging the success of the Kennel Club’s efforts in taking forward these recommendations and setting its house in order is not long, only up to the next UK general election, which must occur before June 2010. The inquiry believes that this is all the time that is needed to allow these changes to be made, and that after the election a judgement should made as to their effectiveness and the need for legislative control.

(NB: The Kennel Club response to the APGAW report can be found here: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/2768/23/5/3)

A Healthier Future for Pedigree dogs. The Report of the APGAW Inquiry into the Health and Welfare Issues Surrounding the Breeding of Pedigree Dogs (November 2009). The Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, A4, 56 pages. Available to be downloaded from http://www.apgaw.org/reports.asp

S Wickens,

Project to develop animal welfare risk assessment guidelines on stunning and killing

In December 2005 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) held a scientific colloquium in Parma on ‘Principles of risk assessment of food producing animals’. One of the conclusions was that there was no standardised methodology for animal welfare risk assessments. Since then various EFSA animal welfare reports have been published which include risk assessments but none of these addressed stunning and killing of farmed and laboratory animals. This is the subject of a report published in October 2009 (see details below).

Everyone would like there to be clear, unambiguous, scientifically-grounded methodology for animal welfare assessment but in the introduction the authors draw attention to the difficulties. “Definitions of animal welfare can hardly be defended scientifically. Instead they are formulated on the basis of the context and the goals one wants to achieve. Regardless of the definition chosen there will be alternative views on what is an appropriate definition. However some definitions are more useful than others in a scientific context. From a risk management and communication perspective, the choice should also match the opinion of most people, or at least be understandable or acceptable.

The objective of risk assessment is to identify and characterise potential hazards (in this case to animal welfare) and to estimate the probability and magnitude of their effects. The application of risk assessment to animal welfare is relatively new and the development of methodologies is ‘work in progress’. In Chapter 4, the authors review the use of the risk assessment approach in recent EFSA reports and discuss some of the difficulties in comparison with risk assessment approaches to food safety (which are, arguably, much more straightforward).

The Report includes a review of stunning and killing methods including electrical methods, captive bolt, free bullet, water jet, air jet, neck dislocation and decapitation and also considers public health implications of various methods. It then goes on to consider the welfare risks at stunning and killing and how these risks may be assessed. Lists of potential hazards were drawn from literature surveys and a 5-point scale was developed for categorisation of the severity of adverse effects. Based on the analyses, tables are presented of good stunning and killing practices and critical control points for various stages of the procedure. For example, for slaughter cattle: unloading to lairage, holding pens, passageway, during restraint and during stunning. For each potential hazard, these tables list ‘dos’ and don’ts’. For example, for use of captive bolts, the ‘dos’ are “no corneal reflex no rhythmic breathing” and the ‘don’ts’ are “do not continue if recovery signs present”.

The Report ends with a recommendation that the commissioning of a risk question needs to be formalised and as limited as possible. It provides useful information and analysis and illustrates the challenges of developing welfare assessment methods.

Project to Develop Animal Welfare Risk Assessment Guidelines on Stunning and Killing (October 2009). Prepared by Algers B, Anil, H, Blokhuis H, Fuchs K, Hultgren J, Lambooij B, Nunes T, Paulson P, and Smulders F. Technical Report submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 88 Pages with an annex of 25 pages. Available at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_1211902958022.htm

JK Kirkwood,

FAWC publishes opinion on the welfare of UK dairy cows

Dairy cow welfare has received increasing coverage and the most recent report to be published in this area is an ‘Opinion on the welfare of the dairy cow’ by the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). FAWC periodically issues Opinions with the aim of advising government bodies within the United Kingdom on subjects that they believe to be of particular importance to farm animal welfare.

The FAWC last considered dairy cow welfare in 1997 when it published a report in which 191 recommendations were made on a wide range of aspects, including: stockmanship, building design, calving aids, mutilations, unwanted progeny, zero-grazing, rearing heifers and calves, nutrition and cow health. The recent opinion is much more specific in its focus and FAWC identifies six areas of critical importance:

  • The supply of trained, skilled dairy farmers and stockmen;
  • The incidence, prevalence and causes of lameness, mastitis, metabolic diseases and injuries in dairy cows;
  • The level of infertility in both heifers and cows, though this is not itself a direct measure of welfare;
  • The lack of centralised recording schemes yielding data at the national level;
  • Breeding policies for dairy cattle; and
  • Public surveillance of welfare.

The FAWC Opinion is sympathetic to the difficulties faced by the dairy industry over the past ten years (input costs have risen and milk prices have decreased, often below the cost of production) and they remark that these difficulties have in turn resulted in less investment in areas such as education, recruitment and training, and farm infrastructure; all of which can have effects on dairy cow welfare. The FAWC also recognises the efforts made by the industry to improve dairy cow welfare following their 1997 report, including the introduction of breeding initiatives that consider health and welfare and reducing many traditional causes of lameness, eg sole ulcers. However, the general feeling of the Opinion is that more needs to be done to improve the welfare of dairy cows and areas that were of concern ten years ago are still of concern today: overall prevalence of lameness and mastitis have remained unchanged or have increased, and conception rates have been decreasing year-on-year and now stand at only 40%. Additionally, the FAWC note that there is a problem with the recruitment and retention of dairy staff in the UK and that there are currently a number of barriers to training initiatives in the industry, including a low perceived value and lack of awareness of the benefits of training. The UK is also one of the few countries within the European Union that does not have a centralised national database for recording dairy cow health and welfare, which the FAWC believe compromises the ability of the UK dairy industry to make national improvements in welfare.

In conclusion, the FAWC consider that “the evidence is that the welfare of dairy cows has not improved significantly over the last decade” and five recommendations are made to ensure that today’s dairy cow has “a life worth living”.

FAWC Opinion on the Welfare of the Dairy Cow (October 2009). Farm Animal Welfare Council. 14 p A4. Available for download from the FAWC website: http://www.fawc.org.uk/reports.htm or by contacting the FAWC Secretariat, Area 5A, 9 Millbank, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR, UK

E Carter,

Welfare Quality® publishes pig, poultry and cattle assessment protocols

2004 saw the official start of ‘Welfare Quality®’, a project described as the largest piece of integrated research to be carried out on animal welfare within Europe. The project, supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme: Food Quality and Safety, has been co-ordinated by Professor Harry Blokhuis of Wageningen University and Research Centre, and involved over 40 partner institutes and universities. The primary aim of Welfare Quality® has been to develop a scientifically-based method for assessing and improving farm animal welfare across Europe through integrating animal welfare into the food quality chain. Four main areas of research were identified as key issues for investigation at the start of the project:

  • Consumers, retailers and producers concerns and requirements for animal welfare and welfare friendly products;
  • To develop a robust on-farm welfare monitoring and information systems for selected farm animal species;
  • To define integrated, knowledge-based, practicable species-specific strategies to improve farm animal welfare; and
  • To implement a welfare monitoring and information system and welfare improvement strategies developed.

In October 2009, the final stakeholder conference: ‘Delivering Animal Welfare and Quality: Transparency in the Food Production Chain’, was held in Uppsala, Sweden. The conference was used to summarise the progress made during the five-year project and also to launch the Welfare Quality® assessment protocols for pigs, poultry and cattle. Pigs, poultry and cattle had been selected as the three species to focus on when developing a standardised assessment method due to their economic and numeric importance.

These assessment protocols each follow the same format and contain: a background of the Welfare Quality® project; guidelines describing the type and method of data to be collected when assessing an animal unit (defined as a section of a farm, a transport unit or a slaughter plant that deals with a certain type of animal); scoring sheets and how to calculate scores once measurements have been taken; and general guidelines for use when visiting an animal unit.

Each protocol is based around four welfare principles considered to be key to high standards of animal welfare: good feeding, good housing, good health and appropriate behaviour. A total score is calculated for each principle by considering twelve welfare criteria (between two and four for each principle) which in turn are scored for a range of welfare measures (between 30 and 50 measurements for each species).

The majority of welfare measures are animal-based, which is a key feature of the Welfare Quality® assessment method. Animal-based measures involve taking measurements directly from the animals themselves, such as behavioural or clinical observations, as opposed to the more traditionally-used resource or management-based measures, eg how much space does an animal have or what is the farm protocol for managing animals in a certain situation. For example, the welfare principle ‘good housing’ has three welfare criteria: comfort around resting, thermal comfort, and ease of movement. To assess these criteria in sows and piglets the following animal-based measures are taken: bursitis and shoulder scores (sows); absence of manure on the body (sows and piglets); and panting and huddling (sows and piglets). Additionally, two resource measurements are taken: space allowance and assessment of farrowing crates. Each of these measures is described and a method of scoring given to create a criterion-score.

Once scores have been obtained for each criterion then these are, in turn, synthesised to give an overall score for the welfare principle. The four principles are then integrated to give the farm unit an overall classification into one of four categories: excellent, enhanced, acceptable, and unclassified.

Although the scoring system as a whole appears to be quite complicated on first viewing (and there has been a great deal of debate regarding the weighting and synthesising of various scores), the actual — on the ground — assessment has been deliberately kept as simple as possible and many measurements are scored using a straightforward binary or three-point scale. Additionally, the use of value judgements has been minimised where possible and veterinary expertise or specialist behavioural knowledge is not required to undertake the process. However, training is considered essential and Welfare Quality® state that “…no individual or organisation can be considered capable of applying these methods in a robust, repeatable and valid way without attending harmonised training approved by the Welfare Quality® consortium”.

It is hoped that the data gathered using the Welfare Quality® assessment protocols will provide pertinent information to farmers and unit managers regarding the welfare status of their farms compared to those of their peers and will enable them to monitor changes in welfare over time and assist with decisions when implementing welfare improvement strategies. It is also intended that the data will, in the future, help to inform consumers and retailers of the welfare status of the producers from whom they purchase products.

Although the Welfare Quality® project has reached the end of its five-year timeline, it is hoped that the connections between individuals and organisations made during the project will remain strong and that work will continue. The assessment protocols are regarded as ‘living documents’ to be updated and revised as new scientific knowledge comes to light.

Welfare Quality® Assessment Protocol for Cattle (October 2009). Welfare Quality® Consortium, Lelystad, Netherlands. A4, 182 pp ISBN: 978-90-78240-04-4. £5. Available at: http://www.welfarequality.net or from info@welfarequality.net.

Welfare Quality® Assessment Protocol for Pigs (Sows, Piglets, Growing and Finishing Pigs) (October 2009). Welfare Quality® Consortium, Lelystad, Netherlands.A4, 122 pp ISBN: 978-90-78240-05-1. £5. Available at: http://www.welfarequality.net or from info@welfarequality.net.

Welfare Quality® Assessment Protocol for Poultry (Broilers, Laying hens) (October 2009). Welfare Quality® Consortium, Lelystad, Netherlands. A4 114, pp ISBN: 978-90-78240-06-8. £5. Available at: http://www.welfarequality.net or from info@welfarequality.net.

E Carter,

Revision process to update EU legislation protecting the welfare of laboratory animals continues

For more than twenty years, Council Directive 86/609/EEC has acted as the foundation for national legislation to regulate the use of animals in experimental and scientific procedures across the European Union (in the United Kingdom this Directive is enacted through the Animals [Scientific Procedures] Act 1986). Included within the Directive are minimum standards for the acquisition and care of vertebrate animals used in experiments and training of staff who handle animals or supervise scientific procedures.

Council Directive 86/609/EEC originally came into force to avoid disruption in trade between countries of the European Community as legislation to protect laboratory animal welfare varied between individual countries. Consequently, Council Directive 86/609/EEC emerged in November 1986 to ensure that protective animal welfare measures were “approximated so as to avoid affecting the establishment and functioning of the common market, in particular by distortions of competition or barriers to trade”.

In 2001, the European Commission noted that, since its adoption, the Directive had become increasingly outdated due to advances in animal welfare science and the evolution of new scientific procedures and technologies, such as cloning, transgenics and xenotransplantation. Additionally, the expansion of the European Union had presented a number of challenges regarding the implementation of regulations across member states. Other problems included: difficulties in collating and interpreting data, such as the exact number of animals used and the severity of experiments undertaken; limitations in the scope of the Directive with some animals currently excluded, eg animals used in educational training within institutions; and a lack of standardised training for individuals working with laboratory animals.

In November 2008, the European Commission published the first draft revision of the Directive. This included a number of measures that aimed to strengthen the existing legislation, significantly improve the welfare of animals used in safety testing and biomedical research, promote the replacement, reduction and refinement of animals used in scientific procedures and harmonise the implementation of regulations, so improving the overall quality of research conducted. To achieve these aims, various new provisions were proposed, including: a ban on the use of great apes apart from in exceptional circumstances; restrictions on the use, breeding and acquisition of non-human primates; a widening of the scope of the Directive to include specific invertebrate species, foetal forms from last third of their development, and animals used in basic research, including education and training; minimum requirements for animal housing and care; and changes in inspection, monitoring and enforcement

The European Parliament published a first reading of the revised Directive in May 2009 which tabled a number of amendments. In a parallel process, the revised Directive is now being discussed by the Council of Ministers, which comprises representatives from the Agricultural and Fisheries Council from each Member State. Within the UK, Sub-Committee D (Environment and Agriculture), of the EU Committee of the House of Lords, recently undertook an inquiry into the revised Directive and a report was published in November 2009, to help inform the official UK position.

The European Commission, European Parliament and Council of Ministers will now continue the trilogue process until a consensus position is reached.

European Parliament Legislative Resolution of 5 May 2009 on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (2009). European Parliament. 2009. Brussels. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P6-TA-2009-0343&language=EN&ring=A6-2009-0240.

The Revision of the EU Directive on the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (2009). Volume 1: Report. House of Lords. European Union Committee. 22nd Report of Session 2008-2009. 2009. 40 pp, A4. London: The Stationary Office Limited. Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldselect/ldeucom/164/16402.htm.

E Carter,

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