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DEFRA seek consultation on draft Animal Welfare strategy

HARD ON the heels of the Animal Welfare Act receiving Royal Assent, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is seeking responses to a draft new Animal Welfare Delivery Strategy, (AWDS), in a non-statutory public consultation exercise launched earlier this week.

In 2004, the government published its Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain, which set out a vision for animal welfare and principles for the future roles of government and stakeholders on health and welfare issues. The AWDS aims to flesh out the principles contained within that original document.

DEFRA is now seeking detailed input from stakeholders on both the general approach taken in the strategy and on the detail of the document and has published a list of questions about the strategy - to which it seeks answers.

The Department has written to a large number of stakeholder groups, including the Kennel Club and Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, whilst also seeking input from animal enthusiasts and pet owners around the UK.

The report’s introduction reads:

‘…The evolution of our society has historically been marked by increasing concerns for the welfare of animals. This concern has been reflected by successive governments in legislation; the UK was the progenitor of welfare legislation in the mid-nineteenth Century, and since then has developed a strong body of domestic legislation, as well as playing a major role in its development at European level.

Animal welfare is essentially about the quality of life of animals. The Farm Animal Welfare Council’s Five Freedoms express a standard of welfare in terms of ideals. They state that animals should be free from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury or disease; from fear and distress; and free to express normal behaviour.

However, policy decisions on welfare also involve value judgements based on a range of factors (including environmental, cultural, religious, social and economic considerations), which must be weighed against each other. The outcome of these judgements over time has established a baseline of required animal welfare standards which is encapsulated in the body of legislation society has today.

The Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain (AHWS)
(www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/ahws//ahws.pdf) set out in broad terms a vision which includes animal welfare, and planned animal welfare outcomes and targets.

Legislation has played a key role in achieving progress to date, along with advances in veterinary medicine, technology and best practice in animal keeping. The draft delivery strategy sets out government’s view that success in the future will mean a move away from the traditional legislative approach, towards delivery of outcomes through other, more innovative means. This will mean effective enforcement of existing regulations, but also a greater emphasis on stakeholders and government working together to deliver good welfare, with clarity about their respective roles and responsibilities.

The report says that the strategy should bring real benefits, as listed:

A clear national framework for action to deliver good animal welfare, which defines clear roles and responsibilities for all those involved in the care of animals;

Clear focus and principles with which to prioritise future resource decisions;

Validated and trusted national assurance schemes for welfare, which are easily identified and understood by consumers;

Improved capture of information on existing animal welfare standards and trends over time;

An agreed policy framework for the identification of research priorities, taking account of international developments, with the results of research put into practice and used to inform policies;

A proportionate and targeted enforcement approach;

Minimised administrative burdens on businesses;

An increased recognition across society of the need to care for the welfare of animals; and

Realised economic benefits from good welfare systems for producers.

The draft Delivery Strategy covers England only, but it cannot be implemented in isolation. The Scottish Executive and National Assembly for Wales are considering similar issues themselves, and DEFRA will facilitate joint working with them, to monitor progress and to share best practice.

On the subject of consultation, the Report continues: ‘It is important that the Strategy is developed in an open and transparent manner. Initial thinking was informed by informal consultation with a small number of key welfare stakeholders including welfare groups, industry and enforcement bodies. The detailed draft was subsequently developed with a small Advisory Group, which comprised members of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy England Implementation Group (EIG), Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC), the Zoos Forum and Defra representatives.’

The report goes onto to state the actual delivery of the policy:

‘The Delivery Strategy applies to vertebrate animals, which is used here to mean those for which humans have responsibility or over which they have control. Specifically, it covers:
farm animals; animals used for entertainment and recreation; companion animals; animals used in sport (whilst under the control of humans whether on a permanent or temporary basis); working animals; animals of a kind that are commonly domesticated that are living in the wild4; and wild animals, when under the control of humans.

It does not cover: wild animals, when not under the control of humans; animals involved in the normal course of fishing; animals used in research.

The scope is consistent with that of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (AHWS). Government policy on diseases of wild animals will be set out in its forthcoming Wildlife Health Strategy. A further welfare strategy, which will focus on the welfare of wild animals under the influence of man, will be developed in due course.’

The consultation is set to run until 13 February 2007.

A copy of the full; document can be downloaded from the DEFRA website: http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/ahws/strategy/ahws.pdf