Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the RSPCA (G14)


  1.1  The RSPCA is grateful for the opportunity to respond to your inquiry into "The Role of DEFRA". The Society responded to DEFRA's consultation "A New Department, a New Agenda" last year and welcome this opportunity to raise our concerns about DEFRA's objectives.

  1.2  In the Society's submission to DEFRA last year we noted the difficulties in establishing a new Government Department. However we pointed out that we felt that there are also great opportunities for the better integration of both policy and action on matters to do with the rural environment. This in turn could have significant benefits for the welfare of the many millions of animals whose lives depend on, or are affected by that environment.

  1.3  The major concern that the Society had and still has, is that there are few references to animal welfare within the aims—and where such references do occur, they are presented merely as a subsidiary part of animal health, which itself is apparently considered as being largely a matter of food safety. Neither is there any recognition of the need for an ethical framework for decision-making on matters to do with environmental protection and rural development which acknowledges the health and welfare needs of animals.


  2.1  Animal welfare is an issue of considerable and growing public concern. The Society is sure that MPs, as well as Government Departments, will recognise the scale of this concern in the volume of correspondence they have received in recent years on a range of animal welfare issues. The RSPCA shares and reflects that concern: in only the last five years the Society has received recorded monetary support from over 700,000 people, 250,000 of whom are regular monthly contributors (RSPCA Marketing Database Audit May 2001) and consistently achieves over 90 per cent awareness for animal welfare work in the public's mind (Future Foundation Charity Awareness Monitor, Total Awareness, June 2001). We believe that the Government has a responsibility to make due provision for animal welfare in all its activities and planning.


  3.1  During the Foot and Mouth (FMD) Crisis, Freedom Foods (the RSPCA's farm animal welfare assurance scheme) commissioned Gallup Organisation to conduct a series of three surveys of the general public's perceptions about farm animal welfare and food products. The first wave took place from 11-20 April 2001, the second from 3-17 July 2001 and the third wave from 19 September-3 October 2001.

  3.2  The results show that an overwhelming majority (85 per cent) of respondents said that they would be concerned if livestock farming in the UK disappeared, to be replaced by imports (third wave). Again when asked about what they considered to be most important to them when purchasing eggs, meat, poultry and dairy products, respondents stated that they felt the rearing method of the animal to be the most important factor (38 per cent wave 1, 34 per cent wave 2, 36 per cent wave 3). Finally when asked whether farm animal welfare was more important to them now than it was before the FMD crisis respondents consistently replied by stating that farm animal welfare was more important (55 per cent wave 1, 57 per cent wave 2, 60 per cent wave 3). Showing a clear increase over time and highlighting the need for Government to make the issue of farm animal welfare a priority if it is to represent the views of the public.


  This inquiry is looking at four key areas surrounding the role of DEFRA. As you will appreciate the RSPCA will restrict its comments to those areas affecting animal welfare.

Whether the vision for the department set out by the Secretary of State is appropriate, and what progress has been made towards meeting that vision

  4.1  The section referring specifically to animal welfare is in the penultimate sentence and states; ". . . the promotion of animal welfare and protection against animal disease is at the core of the way in which we farm and live." The RSPCA welcomes the inclusion of this important statement and believes that a commitment to promote animal welfare, in balance with the other, sometimes conflicting, aims of promoting economic prosperity and environmental protection must be an essential part of the overall strategy.

  4.2  However, the Society does have concerns that this statement is not given the necessary weight and certainly does not appear to be given even equal weight within the more environmentally based direction of the text. This in conjunction with the aims and objectives document produced by the department highlight the real concern that the RSPCA has that animal health and welfare are an after-thought added in—not a central thread running throughout the whole strategy of the department.

  4.3  The Society would strongly suggest that promotion of animal welfare—both for domesticated and wild animals, free living and captive—should be a fundamental high-level objective within all areas of the Department's work, including not just agriculture and fisheries, but also wild animal management and care, environmental protection, and rural development.

Whether farming, food, environmental and conservation concerns, and rural affairs are each given proper weight by the department, and whether the department is engineered to deliver its objectives

  4.4  It is perhaps indicative of the RSPCA's concern that animal welfare is not specified amongst the concerns listed in this question. The RSPCA is concerned that animal welfare, while mentioned in the vision and briefly in the objectives report of the department, does not have the focus and emphasis it should have. Included in this is the issue of animal health, and recent events in farming have proven a real need for change and assurance that health (and other welfare) issues are given the priority needed to protect not just the animals but also the consumer, the farming industry and the rural economy.

  4.5  Whether or not the department is able to deliver on its objectives is a difficult judgement for the Society to make and one that we feel we cannot comment on.

What has been the impact on the role and influence of the Environment Protection group and the Wildlife and Countryside Directorate of their transfer from the former DETR?

  4.6  The Society does not feel able to comment extensively on this area of the Department's operation as contact with the Environment Protection Group and the Wildlife & Countryside Directorate is very limited and hence assessment of change is difficult. However, the Society has real concerns about the Department's considerations for wild animal welfare. It is the RSPCA view that such consideration is severely lacking across the wide-ranging areas of the Department's responsibility—probably more so than farm animals. Very minor mentions in the Wildlife & Countryside Act, minimal reference to adequate welfare provisions in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, and although through the Zoo Licensing Act the Secretary of State's Zoo Standards of Modern Zoo Practice has raised the issue in theory it is in the overall commitment by the Department and those devolved with responsibility for taking wider action where there remains a severe lack of commitment. It is of great and continuing concern that welfare issues are not central to the policy and practices of the Department's handling of wildlife issues.

What objectives the department has set itself in pursuing the "rural affairs" agenda; in what areas of policy other than those dealt with directly by the department it has sought to make the case for rural areas, and what examples there are of successes?

  4.7  Clearly a welfare issue that the RSPCA is concerned with that is tied in with the "rural affairs" agenda is that of hunting with dogs. The Society hopes that the Department and Government will act firmly on this issue and ensure that the so-called "sport" is banned and furthermore does not detract from other important rural affairs issues.

May 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 14 November 2002