What animal cruelty issues have Government advisors asked to be prioritised?

October 25, 2023

The CASJ is researching the role of the Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) , which is an expert committee whose role is to ‘provide advice on the welfare of farmed animals, companion animals and wild animals kept by people to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish and Welsh Governments’.[1]

Thus the AWC could play a key role in the governance of animal welfare in the UK, as it is one of the few bodies with an explicit animal welfare remit. However, its impact does depend on its composition, resources, recommendations, and whether government takes its advice seriously.

We have been engaged in a lengthy two-and-a-half-year battle with Defra to assert the public’s Freedom of Information rights regarding the deliberations of this Committee. This is the first instalment of our investigations, starting with the initial information Defra agreed to provide.

At its first meeting on 11 February 2020, the-then Animal Welfare Minister Lord (Zac) Goldsmith asked AWC members to state their 2-3 top animal cruelty concerns. However, the summary report of the meeting published by Defra is extremely vague and provided no information about what these priorities are.

The CASJ made a Freedom of Information request to Defra to obtain, amongst other information, further details regarding these priority animal welfare issues. Defra provided some redacted minutes of the February 2020 meeting.

With 17 members and a vast array of cruel practices inflicted on animals to be tackled, it is not surprising that there was little consensus regarding the priorities. However, the most popular priority, with five mentions, concerned the fundamental issue of the need to start defining and measuring animal welfare/harm outcomes. This is significant because being able to measure animal welfare and suffering is essential to formulate and enforce effective policies to reduce animal harm: in other words, ‘what is measured is what matters’. This recommendation echoes one of the CASJ’s priority areas, which is to establish mechanisms for an animal welfare audit so we can understand the reality of animal welfare standards, prioritise areas for attention and measure progress.

Other issues that were raised more than once were:

  • Concern over animal welfare standards of imports, e.g. from US, Brazil and Australia
  • Lameness in cattle: one member said: ‘Lameness is still the biggest welfare issue with cattle; we feel we have failed within the industry’.
  • Several different concerns were raised around aspects of farming chickens, with one expert highlighting the need for ‘Slower growing genetics for chickens – fast growth is causing issues; the genetics are out there to grow birds more slowly this will result in a positive move and improvements to the animals’. Another member was concerned about ‘Chlorinated chicken meat – allowing poultry to be produced in a low welfare system to be sold in a way that is safe for consumption’.
  • Public education, for example with labelling of products so consumers have the information they need to help avoid the most cruel products.
  • Mutilations: an expert complained that there is a ‘high tolerance of this on the industry, tail docking methods can be painful and are too often used as a reason to not address underlining issues [sic]’.

You can read the meeting minutes here.

In addition to publishing further FoI documents and analysis in the near future, we will also be scrutinising how the Government has responded to the priority cruelty issues raised by the expert committee.



[1] The AWC was formerly the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) but changed its name on 1st October 2019 to reflect the expansion of its remit to include companion animals and wild animals kept by people.