16. Mr. Edward M. Taylor
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware of public concern at the increase in the application of factory methods in the production of farm animals, particularly cattle and pigs; and what action he intends to take in the matter.
§ 42. Sir W. Teeling
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the latest figures for hens in battery cages for egg production and whether these figures have increased in the last 12 months; what information he has as to whether the modern intensive rearing of beasts and birds for food is in any way producing dangerous food, and whether this especially applies to eggs; and if he will make a statement on the 1063 attitude of Her Majesty's Government to protests against these new methods.
§ Mr. John Mackie
I refer the hon. Members to the Answers my right hon. Friend gave on 19th and 25th November and 2nd December last. Once my right hon. Friend receives the report of the Brambell Committee, which we hope will be by the end of the summer, he will be able to decide what action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of animals kept under intensive systems.
From a survey carried out in September and October last, it is estimated that about 40 per cent. of hens were kept in batteries compared with about 30 per cent. of a slightly smaller flock at the same time in 1963. I am unaware of any information to suggest that modern intensive rearing methods produce dangerous food.
Does the Minister realise that the public are becoming increasingly concerned not only at the possible effect on consumer health but also about the conditions in which animals are kept in intensive livestock rearing establishments? Is not this concern shown particularly in the cities where people are going to enormous lengths to try to buy farm products direct from farms where they know that intensive husbandry is not practised? In the circumstances, will he consult the Minister of Health to see whether the remit of the Brambell Committee could be extended to include the possible long-term effects on consumer health of intensive husbandry and the techniques associated with it?
§ Mr. Mackie
We have some information on this point as regards vitamins. There is no material difference in vitamins and so on as compared with the normal product. The Brambell Committee has been given its remit, and we could not alter it now. We are very conscious of the anxieties of the public about this, but I think that, once the Brambell Committee reports, we shall be able to allay them.
§ Sir W. Teeling
Does the Minister realise that there are two sides to this issue? One is the question of cruelty, which is worrying a great many people. In my Question, I was asking him whether any method can be devised whereby people may know when they are buying foodstuffs whether they have 1064 been produced by these methods. Will the hon. Gentleman work out means to do something about that? The other side, apart from the question of cruelty, is a matter of health. Many people are getting very worried about this also. Must we wait until the summer before it is answered—as it is suggested by some that quite an element of poisoning is taking place?
§ Mr. Mackie
I see nothing in the hon. Gentleman's Question which suggests that he wanted this food marked in any way so that the public would know what it was, and I think that that would be an almost impossible thing to do. It is not too long to wait. Hon. Members should bear in mind that battery keeping of hens has been going on since the mid-1920s, and that deep litter poultry broiler keeping is just an extension of deep litter poultry keeping. When all is said and done, give a pig the choice of a cool dry home to sleep in or a wet warm one, and he will take the wet warm one every time.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
Is the Ministry still making money available by way of grants for converting premises into pig sweat boxes and for the more extreme forms of factory farming?
§ Mr. Mackie
I should need notice of that question. I do not know whether any grants have been given for that particular job.
§ Sir W. Teeling
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.