LORD TREES’ AMENDMENT 87 TO THE AGRICULTURE BILL ELICITS AN IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION FROM THE GOVERNMENT – A WIN FOR BOTH ANIMAL WELFARE AND THE SELF-SUSTAINABILITY OF THE RURAL ECONOMY.
On Thursday 16th July, in response to Lord Trees amendment, Minister’s confirmed that slaughtering would be recognised as one of the key ‘ancillary services’ eligible for public funds. The Amendment was supported by Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
This will enable assistance to be given in an appropriate case to a licensed abattoir which, for example, provides a private kill service or enables slaughtering facilities in an area otherwise without adequate provision.
“I am delighted to say that we have had it confirmed that the definition of ancillary activities in Clause 1(5) covers slaughtering under either “preparing” or “processing”
Ministers closing remarks to Amendment 87 of the Agriculture Bill, 16th July 2020
The clarification was all the more welcome as we had reason to suspect that there had been reluctance to enable abattoirs to receive this support.
In the last few weeks VPRF and others had written a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice and had discussed the issue in detail with Lord Gardiner, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity.
These conversations and others allowed the government to clarify their position before the committee stage debate. We were very glad that at the last minute the Minister at the Dispatch Box confirmed that “slaughter” would be included in the list of “ancillary activities” eligible for support.
The proposed amendment was supported by evidence from a recent All Part Parliamentary Group (APGAW) inquiry; “The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK”.
Lord Trees argued that:
“Given the key role that small abattoirs can play in improving animal welfare, enabling local food production and enabling the financial sustainability of livestock farming, while contributing to the wider rural economy and our national food security, I submit that there is a strong case for their eligibility for support, subject to conditions, under this Bill.”
“The amendment is not about subsidising abattoirs. It would merely allow as eligible for assistance certain abattoirs that recognise the higher regulatory standards rightly required for operations that are relatively low throughput and local.”
A selection of messages received:
Megan Perry, Head of Communications, Sustainable Food Trust, 17th July 2020
Gemma Chaters1; Alexander John Trees2, Gabrielle Laing3
1University of Glasgow; 2House of Lords; 3Veterinary Policy Research Foundation House of Lords
Certain dog breeds are increasing in popularity in the UK and there is growing concern for the health and welfare of some of these breeds due to their conformational deformities.
As a surrogate measure of lifetime health and welfare, we compared health insurance premiums for fourteen popular UK dog breeds. Premiums for French and English bulldogs were over four times higher than the lowest premiums. We suggest this is an objective, actuarial indication of the expected higher healthcare costs of these brachycephalic breeds, reflecting in general, their predisposition to ill-health related to their conformation.
There is growing concern from the veterinary profession and related bodies for the health and welfare of certain dog breeds in the UK because of the problems they have due to conformational defects. This concern comes at a time of increasing popularity of these breeds. Over the last ten years, the Kennel club has reported large increases in the registrations of brachycephalic breeds (dogs with less than 80% of their natural head depth) such as the French bulldog (up 3000%), pug (up 193%) and English bulldog (up 96%).
Brachycephalic dogs suffer a variety of clinical problems associated with their conformation including obstructive airway syndrome, gastro-intestinal disease, ataxia and lameness, eye disease, dystocia and spinal disease (1–6). For further references please see the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation fact file on Brachycephaly and other conformational disorders (7). It is of grave concern that a significant proportion of the pet dog population potentially endure avoidable ill-health and pain to satisfy human fashion.
A scoping study we did using market price comparison websites showed that the monthly cost for a cocker spaniel ranged from £8-14, compared to the pug £15-£22 and French Bulldog £28-£47. The policies for each breed were not directly comparable because the policy conditions (excess, limits, length of cover etc.) vary, however, they give an idea of the variations in cost. A further example of between breed price heterogeneity is that the cheapest monthly premium available that will cover vet fees up to £7000 was cheapest for the spaniel (£11) followed by the pug (£20) then the French Bulldog (£40).
For this investigation, to avoid introducing bias by comparing policies with different small-print stipulations, the authors contacted insurance company underwriters directly to get data that are comparable. We compare health insurance premiums between breeds, for identical quotes, hypothecating that these will be a surrogate measure for expected lifetime health and wellbeing, and may objectively highlight the predisposition to ill-health of certain dog breeds.
Three major insurance companies (collectively underwriting for companies that provide the insurance for over 75% of insured dogs in the UK) were requested to quote premiums for the most popular fourteen UK dog breeds (see Table 1) for a policy giving full lifetime cover, with an excess of £100, from each of three ages (fourteen weeks, four years and seven years of age), for a male dog, resident in the north-west UK (LA9 postcode).
A mixture of perceived risk from known health problems and a consideration of the magnitude of historic claims were given, by actuaries, as the basis for the setting of the premium. The companies quoted in units of one, where one was the lowest premium in all breeds and age categories. The data from each company were then combined to give a mean premium for each breed at each life stage (Table 1). Finally, a mean for the three age categories for each breed was derived to give a final ranking of costs (Figure 1).
There was a high level of agreement between the insurance companies for the ranking of breeds within and across each of the three age categories. Table 1 shows the mean relative cost (n= three companies) of the monthly premium for each breed for each age category and the mean across all age categories for each breed. The combined results from all age categories are shown in Figure 1.
Across all age categories the English and French bulldog premiums were over four times more expensive than the cost of the cheapest breeds (chihuahua and shih tzu). The pug and German shepherd were next highest with their premiums around double that of the cheapest breeds. All other breed premiums were, on average 1.7 or less, times higher relative to the cheapest.
Using strictly comparable quotes these results show that the French and English bulldogs, two popular brachycephalic breeds, have substantially higher insurance premiums compared with other popular UK dog breeds. This is an objective, actuarial indication of expected higher lifetime healthcare costs, reflecting the high pre-disposition to ill-health of these breeds. It is consistent with studies comparing the prevalence of ill-health and clinical signs amongst brachycephalic dog breeds (1-6).
The results have not been adjusted for breed size but although the smallest breeds (chihuahua and shih tzu) have the lowest premium costs, the premiums for most larger breeds are less than 50%
higher. This outcome shows that the effects of breed size on premiums are minimal in comparison to the effects of breed specific factors.
In the UK, we have been increasingly owning and breeding brachycephalic dog breeds for human pleasure, which the results of this study show incur higher health insurance premiums when compared to other popular breeds, suggesting a higher likelihood of ill-health and poor welfare.
It is incumbent on all concerned – pet owners, breeders, the veterinary profession – to promote and provide breeds less susceptible to ill health. A number of breeds suffer from ill health attributable to their conformation but prominent amongst these are the brachycephalic breeds. There have been a number of recent measures taken by various bodies which may be yielding positive results, with Kennel Club registrations falling for French bulldogs, bulldogs and pugs in the first half of 2019. Nevertheless, more needs to be done for the sake of animal welfare.
In 2014 the Dutch government introduced legislation prohibiting the breeding of animals “which possess a specific condition or appearance which may affect the health or welfare of the animal or its offspring” (8). Following this, criteria commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture were published in 2019 outlining the severe health and welfare issues of brachycephalic dogs and a traffic light breeding system which guides breeders and vets towards creating a healthier dog population (9). In June 2019 it was stated that the Animal law, with regard to breeding brachycephalic dogs with poor health due to severe conformational disorders, would start to be enforced using the traffic light breeding system guidelines.
Similar legislation was introduced in the UK in 2018. It would help were there to be greater awareness of the fact that under the Animal Welfare ( Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 – a statutory instrument of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – Schedule 6 states that “No dog may be kept for breeding if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype, phenotype, or state of health that breeding from it could have detrimental effect on its health or welfare or the health and welfare of its offspring”. This legislation is yet to be enforced in the UK and a test case would attract greater awareness to the issue.
It is important to note that neither of these pieces of legislation above refer to a specific breed and they allow for a variation in conformation within breed.
We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the following insurance companies: Agria Pet Insurance, Petplan and RSA UK. GC undertook this project as part of a work placement at the House of Lords funded by a BBSRC studentship at The University of Glasgow.
1. O’Neill DG, O’Sullivan AM, Manson EA, Church DB, Boag AK, McGreevy PD, et al. Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency care veterinary practices: prevalence and risk factors. Vet Rec. 2017 Jul 22;181(4):88.
2. O’Neill DG, Jackson C, Guy JH, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, et al. Epidemiological associations between brachycephaly and upper respiratory tract disorders in dogs attending veterinary practices in England. Canine Genet Epidemiol. 2015 Dec 14;2(1):10.
3. Packer RMA, Hendricks A, Tivers MS, Burn CC. Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome. Ambrósio CE, editor. PLoS One. 2015 Oct 28;10(10):e0137496.
4. Kaye BM, Rutherford L, Perridge DJ, Ter Haar G. Relationship between brachycephalic airway syndrome and gastrointestinal signs in three breeds of dog. J Small Anim Pract. 2018 Nov 1;59(11):670–3.
5. Rohdin C, Jäderlund KH, Ljungvall I, Lindblad-Toh K, Häggström J. High prevalence of gait abnormalities in pugs. Vet Rec. 2018 Feb 10;182(6):167.
6. Liu N-C, Adams VJ, Kalmar L, Ladlow JF, Sargan DR. Whole-Body Barometric Plethysmography Characterizes Upper Airway Obstruction in 3 Brachycephalic Breeds of Dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2016 May;30(3):853–65.
7. Veterinary Policy Research Foundation. VPRF Fact File – Brachycephaly & other conformational disorders [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Nov 28]. Available from: http://www.vetpolicy.org
The number of sheep and goats slaughtered without stunning has doubled in the last six years, with an estimated 3.3 million (27%) not stunned in 2017. A Food Standards Agency survey for England and Wales estimates that 184 million poultry and 21 thousand cattle were also slaughtered without an effective stun in 2017 (see VPRF Non-stun slaughter Fact File)
EU and UK law require all livestock at abattoirs to be stunned and therefore rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. The EU uses a ‘Precautionary Principle’ for policy areas where scientific evidence may be uncertain, but there is reasonable concern for harm to environmental, human or animal health. Despite a body of scientific evidence of harm, the use of non-stun slaughter by some religious groups is allowed in the UK but non-stun slaughter is banned in several countries around the world.
The UK legislation (Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing, WATOK) requires that for non-stun slaughter, each animal has a rapid, uninterrupted cut to the neck by hand-held knife to sever both carotid arteries and jugular veins. The animal must be restrained suitably and be left still during exsanguination for a minimum defined time post-cut. The majority of red meat (63% sheep, 75% cattle) slaughtered for halal is reversibly stunned but the remainder is not. This meat, along with 70% of meat from non-stunned kosher carcasses, enters the market unlabelled.
Several studies have measured time to loss of consciousness (and therefore sensibility to pain and distress) through a variety of methods including loss of posture. Following non-stun slaughter and across several studies, poultry reportedly took 12-15 seconds following throat cut before signs of unconsciousness were apparent. In sheep this was between 2-14 seconds and in cattle between 11seconds in some cases over 4minutes (cattle time to collapse may be longer due to a unique alternative blood supply to the brain).
Recently there has been much public support to recognise that animals are sentient, and therefore able to suffer pain and distress. ‘We are a nation of animal lovers’ the papers declare and Ministers repeatedly emphasise our proud record of high animal welfare. With programmes such as Blue Planet capturing the imagination of the world (apparently the most viewed TV programme of 2017), and conversations around the sustainability and morality of our diets being brought into the mainstream by films such as Cowspiracy, Okja and Carnage; why is the UK struggling to agree when it comes to stunning animals before slaughter?
Lord Trees – the only Veterinarian in parliament – will ask in the House of Lords ‘what is to be done to minimise the number of animals slaughtered without stunning?’ on Wednesday 7th February 15h00
This issue has been a subject of interest for us, other Parliamentarians and particularly the British Veterinary Association (BVA) for some time but rejection of the Amendment (New Clause 30) to the Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons on 15th November has heightened interest. At the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation we have compiled an Animal Sentience Briefing which summarises this fast moving situation.
The Withdrawal Bill seeks to transpose EU regulations into UK law but Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty will not automatically become UK law as it is not an EU regulation. Article 13 has been regarded as important by animal welfare organisations as it puts an onus on EU member states, in formulating policies, to pay full regard to animal welfare requirements since animals are sentient beings. The amendment (New Clause 30) moved by Caroline Lucas MP, proposed that the principle with respect to animal sentience expressed in Article 13 should be included in the Withdrawal Bill. The amendment was rejected with a Government majority of 18.
Although much media coverage focused on this as a disagreement about whether animals were sentient or not, it has since been clarified by the Secretary of State for Defra, Michael Gove, that the amendment was voted down as a ‘poorly drafted and inappropriate way’ of delivering the aims of Article 13. Moreover, it is legally arguable that the Animal Welfare Act already implicitly recognises that animals are sentient.
The existing legislation within the Animal Welfare Act places the onus of responsibility for the care of animals on the keepers of those animals. Article 13 imposes duties on the state. This is the real and critical aspect of this debate.
Before and after the 15th November vote (see below) Government ministers have given assurances that they are exploring how the sentience of animals can be best enshrined in UK law.
You may rest assured that the VPRF and a number of MPs particularly associated with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW) and outwith Parliament, the BVA are actively working to hold the government to that commitment.
You will see that in adebate in the House of Lords on Brexit: Agriculture and Brexit: Farm Animal Welfare on 17th October 2017 I asked within my speech a specific question with regard to sentience:
“…with regard to the withdrawal Bill and animal welfare, while the Secretary of State has given some assurances about the important legal principles set out in the EU treaties, can the Minister explain, in writing if necessary, which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the withdrawal Bill? Importantly, can he confirm whether they will apply to future government decision-making and judgments in court?” Lord Trees full spoken contribution can be found at: https://goo.gl/fhg4Fd
Ministerial response (Lord Gardiner) to Lord Trees question, by letter to Lord Teverson 3/11/17:
“Lord Trees asked which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and whether they would apply to future government decision-making and judgements in court. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare and environmental laws to become UK laws. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.
The Withdrawal Bill will preserve environmental principles where they are included in existing EU legislation and case law. We recognise the importance of these issues and will listen carefully to the views of Parliament as the Bill progresses. Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) created a qualified obligation on the EU and EU Member States “to have full regard [to] the welfare of animals as they are sentient being” when formulating and implementing certain EU laws. Existing domestic law such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the various Welfare Codes made under it already protect animals where there is clear scientific evidence that they are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Its scope is capable of being extended where the science justifies.
We are exploring how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 can continue to be reflected in the UK when we leave the EU.”
In Parliament on 23rd November 2017, the Secretary of State Michael Gove delivered a Written Ministerial Statement in the Commons which you will find referred to in the briefing document and below .
Acknowledgement: we are very grateful to Dr. Michael Radford, University of Aberdeen for his expert legal interpretation of this issue.
He took the opportunity to ask the Minister for further clarity on the rights of non-UK EU vets to continue to work in the UK post Brexit, he emphasised the role of vets in underpinning trade, sought assurances that animal welfare standards would not slip as a consequence of setting up new trading relationships and also spoke on the need to transpose medicines regulations into UK law to ensure that current and future medicines required for animal health are available. More generally he also asked the Minister if the Government have considered how financial inducements might be used to help to maintain animal welfare standards (e.g. during reform of farming subsidy payments) and to ensure that the EU Withdrawal Bill includes General Principles of EU law such as the Lisbon Treaty (Article 13) which requires the sentience of animals to be recognised in making and interpreting current and future laws.
Defra Minister, Lord Gardiner’s reply stated:
“In government we absolutely recognise the key role played by vets in ensuring high animal welfare and health standards. Indeed, the Prime Minister specifically made it clear that securing the status of the veterinary workforce is a top priority. It has been my privilege to meet many EU nationals who serve in our veterinary profession and I can say how important they are to us.”
He mentioned welfare standards several times, re-iterating the Government’s position that the UK’s current standards of animal welfare will be maintained post Brexit. He also stated that the Government plans “to replicate broadly the EU’s current schedule of WTO commitments” in its future trade agreements allowing tariffs to be maintained at current level but acknowledging that decreases in tariffs can adversely impact farmers, consumers and the food industry.
In response to concerns about the negative impact of cuts in Defra funding and reduction in the Defra workforce he stated that Defra have recruited 450 additional staff, comprising policy generalists and specialists to support their comprehensive exit programme. More than 350 have already taken up posts, with the remainder currently progressing through the pre-appointment processes.
He confirmed The Secretary of State (Michael Gove’s) recent announcement that the Government intends to publish draft legislation for consultation “around the turn of the year” to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years in prison.
He also referred to the Government’s manifesto commitment to “take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter” as we leave the EU as well as to require CCTV in every slaughterhouse in England.