|Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2002 and Draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Laying Hens and Meat Chickens and Breeding Chickens
Mr. Morley: As the hon. Gentleman says, this is a question of judgment and balance. I have made our judgment and I think that on balance it is better to start the consultation earlier rather than later. That does not mean that we cannot take into account the research that has been carried out. That will be done. I will also listen carefully to the representations from the BEIC and others who, I am sure, will have views on this.
The welfare codes are based on expert veterinary and scientific advice on the handling of animals and their welfare. Clearly, there is a risk of an unacceptable level of leg injuries if birds are held by one, rather than two legs during de-stocking. We have considered that, which is why our code recommends that birds be handled by two legs. I appreciate that there is a difference in the Scottish wording. That may be because the wording reflects that of our original codes. I will draw that to the attention of the Scottish Executive. They may want to reflect on it. It is in everyone's interests that we have a consistent approach to welfare issues across the UK.
On the time scale, we made it clear, and the Prime Minister made it clear to the industry, that the directives would not be embellished. I do not believe we are embellishing this. We are consulting separately in relation to the directive, which is being tabled today unchanged. In that respect the cages, with the amendments in the directive, will be allowed to operate until 2012. We have no proposal to change that date. The time scale for ending battery cages in Germany is 2007. I understand the points that have been made and why the Germans have taken that decision. Again, it is a question of balance and taking into account the impact on the industry.
Undoubtedly, there was a cost to our pig industry when the sow stall and tether ban came in, which was not reflected in that of our competitors. However, the pig industry obtained a welfare premium when it made the public aware of the difference in standards. Indeed, it was so successful that it forced a voluntary change in some of our main competitor states. Denmark banned those systems even though it did not have to under Danish law because it was afraid of losing market
Column Number: 23access and market share within the UK. When consumers are given the information they will make an informed choice.
The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall mentioned the movement of production to Poland. There are always risks in production. That does not apply just to agriculture: it applies to everything. Poland is an accession state and, therefore, will have to abide by these regulations under the EU directive. One cannot move production into the eastern European countries and have different standards there from those that are currently being introduced. I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman made about support for the industry.
My local company is Premier Poultry. It voluntarily introduced stocking densities that were laid down by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. That was in advance of the welfare codes that now include those stocking densities. It included enrichments in its rearing sheds, such as straw bales. It funded research in conjunction with some of our agricultural colleges into the development of forced air ventilation in vehicles for transporting poultry. I pay tribute to that work. The quality industry that we have in this country recognises that welfare is an issue and commits funds to ensure that its standards lead the way.
On the question of the future of farming, I should remind the hon. Member for South Norfolk that this Government set up the Food and Farming Commission. It addresses the structural problems of agriculture. We acknowledge that they are long-term, not short-term problems. The Commission supplied a range of good ideas, which the Government support in principle. We are now talking to the Commission about their implementation. We implemented some immediatelythe food chain initiative, for exampleand made funds available.
The Commission identified that agriculture in this country had become divorced from its markets: it was necessary to implement change and ensure that profitabilitytaking a stake within the food chainis returned to farmers themselves. We very much support that.
The hon. Gentleman was wrong to say that antibiotics are not used in caged systems. They may not be used routinely and some free-range systems may use them more frequently. Some problems of disease within extensive systems can be resolved quickly,
Column Number: 24whereas using antibiotics in caged systems can be much more difficult. Tackling disease within caged systems can take much longer when antibiotics have to be used. Any system can have problemswe do not pretend otherwiseso it is wrong to suggest that caged systems have no problems while free-range systems have many.
In conclusion, the danger is that we could be forced down to the lowest common denominator in respect of welfare. Many people can think of many reasons for not improving welfare standards. We have heard some today, not all unreasonable, but if we seek excuses for not improving welfare standards, we will never improve them. The Government believe that that is wrong and neither the industry nor consumers and the public accept that standards should not be improved.
Mr. Keith Simpson: We have had a good and interesting debate, with an element of half cup full, half cup empty. The Minister is correct in his final comments, but if a viable industry is not in place, not only animal welfare but the consumer will lose out. The passage of the legislation in Committee is not the end, because it will be debated in another place and the consultation promised by the Minister will involve a wide range of groups. I am sure that they will read the Minister's comments today with great interest.
Question put and agreed to.
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