HL Deb 01 November 1989 vol 512 cc242-4

2.50 p.m.

Lord Swansea asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their attention has been drawn to the article "Pigs in the Machine" in the colour supplement of The Sunday Correspondent of 1st October and other similar articles and whether they are satisfied that the present system for inspection of factory farms is adequate.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Tr umpington)

Frankly, my Lords, not only did I read the article in The Sunday Correspondent, but as written, I found it disgusting. The Government are well aware of that and similar articles which in part reflect the general concern over the need to ensure proper standards of animal welfare. The Government share that concern. Such articles, however, sometimes tend to be emotive and describe normal husbandry practices in sensational and appalling terms.

Despite the most zealous arrangements under which the Government's state veterinary service spends a considerable amount of time and effort in visiting livestock farms, both intensive and extensive, to check and advise on animal welfare, the system of inspection can never achieve perfection.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Having spoken to the author of the article I am sure that a great deal more might have been said than appeared in the article. Will the Government consider a licensing scheme for these intensive units and a scheme for better training of the stockmen involved?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, many of the practices are covered by legislation and the welfare code for pigs. They are recognised as acceptable provided they are performed by competent stockkeepers in a humanitarian way. However, we would not condone some of the actions described but were unable to identify the farms concerned because the newspaper would not give the names of the premises. I understand that the NFU also tried and failed to identify the farms.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether her Ministry has a definition of factory farms? If it does not have such a definition will she consider asking the Farm Animal Welfare Council to devise one? Does she agree that it is important that in the forthcoming Bill we should consider the licensing of food processors and factory farms as well as food shops?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, provided that stockmanship is of a high enough standard intensive systems can be operated without welfare problems. However, the Government have stated in response to the Farm Animal Welfare Council's assessment of pig production systems that stall and tether systems impose an unacceptable welfare burden on animals. We have therefore accepted the council's recommendations for change and are seeking to have those changes accepted on a Community basis.

I should also say with regard to training, because I did not do so in answer to my noble friend's earlier question, that the Government are encouraging the industry to give stockmen the necessary training to operate alternative systems successfully.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that 10 years ago a Select Committee in another place, of which I had the privilege to be chairman, looked into intensive methods of food production and concluded that the sow stall house was without any question cruelly intensive? Will she, at her absolute convenience, look at the subsequent report of that committee with a view to implementing some of its recommendations?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am aware of the report. We are sponsoring research which is directly related to pig welfare. That amounted to £500,000 in 1988–89, of which £160,000 was on alternative systems and pig behaviour. More research has started this year and there are plans for future work on alternative systems.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that a well-bred pig is more intelligent than a great many human beings? Secondly, is she willing to prevail upon the media to let the consumer see more of the miseries of the rearing and slaughter of that sensitive animal? Thirdly, will she prevail upon the authorities of the House to give the right message to the consumer by banning pork, veal and venison from our dining room until we are satisfied that the animals are more humanely treated and slaughtered?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I can sum up the noble Lord's question by saying, speak for yourself.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, as one of the ministerial signatories to the code of good practice issued by the Department of Agriculture in the early 1980s, which I believe has subsequently been amended, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether she is satisfied that the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which are very important, are being implemented with the necessary degree of urgency. I appreciate that we have to carry Europe with us on that point, but the council made a number of extremely important recommendations. Will she pursue the matter with real vigour?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have here a copy of the code of practice, and I congratulate my noble friend if it is the one with which he was associated. Of course we are aware of the recommendations. As I said, we shall be pressing as hard as we can for them to be implemented when the Community working group meeting starts in Brussels this month.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, have the Government been made aware of the so-called family pig system which has been developed at the school of agriculture in Edinburgh which appears to be a very much more humane way of keeping pigs?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Farm Animal Welfare Council has looked at that system and is looking at other extensive systems. That is part of the way forward but more research is needed before it becomes a viable alternative.