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
1.3 The major concern that the Society had
and still has, is that there are few references to animal welfare
within the aimsand 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. PUBLIC CONCERN
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. FREEDOM FOOD
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.
4. DEFRA'S AIMS
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 innot a central
thread running throughout the whole strategy of the department.
4.3 The Society would strongly suggest that
promotion of animal welfareboth for domesticated and wild
animals, free living and captiveshould 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
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 responsibilityprobably 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.