Government puts fox in charge of chicken coop
Yesterday (26 April 2011) Conservative DEFRA Minister Jim Paice announced the creation of a new ‘Animal Health and Welfare Board for England‘ (AHWBE) to advice ministers on… what? Well, as usual the devil is in the detail here.
Given the use of the word ‘welfare’ in the title, you could be forgiven for assuming that reducing the suffering experienced by the billion animals farmed and killed for food every year in Britain might be part of its strategy. However, the terms of reference reveal that the welfare of animals is actually of no inherent concern to this key body. The primary focus of the AHWBE is dealing with diseases in farmed animals – or ‘livestock’ as they refer to them. This seems to be all about protecting the financial interests of producers, and animals are just seen as units of production from which (rather than ‘whom’) every last penny of profit must be exploited.
DEFRA emphasises the need for the AHWBE to have the confidence and respect of industry – but says nothing about protecting the public interest and the wellbeing of animals. This is what’s called ‘regulatory capture’ – where vested interests take over the Government that is supposed to prevent their activities damaging the public, the environment and animals. It is very worrying that the core values that underpin current Government policy appear to lack any sincere regard for animals.
The announcement is a classic example of how the language of ‘animal welfare’ is deployed by those with a vested interest in the intensive exploitation of animals. The aim is to fool the public into thinking they genuinely care about animals. Perhaps some methods of reducing animal disease will – coincidentally – mitigate their pain and distress. But ultimately the policies that emerge will probably be those that are cheapest in the short term for producers rather than the most ethical or economically sustainable ones. The result could be another BSE-style catastrophe.
Meanwhile, the Farm Animal Welfare Council has been reformed to become the ‘Farm Animal Welfare Committee‘ (how much did that pointless rebanding cost?) and has the powers to make recommendations to improve animal welfare. But its ability to achieve this is undermined by:
- Improving animal welfare is an optional rather than mandatory part of its role
- Most members come from industry rather than representing the public interest or animal welfare
- It appears to be below the AHWBE in the Government ‘food chain’, so the AHWBE strategy is likely to impede any attempt by FAWC to improve animal welfare
If how we treat animals is a measure of how civilised we are, then I fear the Government might be taking us back to the dark ages.