Mutilation or just management?

ONE man's minor livestock management operation is another's animal mutilation. That is why operations most livestock farmers carry out as routine, such as castration of calves and lambs and tail-docking of pigs, are criticised by animal welfare groups.

The latest criticism, and a suggestion that the Scottish Executive is sending out mixed messages in proposed animal mutilation legislation, came yesterday from Advocates for Animals.

In response to the consultation, which ends next month, Advocates claim that "painful mutilations are routinely performed on millions of animals in Scotland each year, often without anaesthetic".

Most of these operations are unnecessary, said Libby Anderson, Advocates' political director: "But we are not saying there should be a complete ban. We are trying to take a measured approach by asking for each one to be reviewed.

"Our main message is that we should not legislate for these procedures just because they have been used for a long time."

The Executive's approach to tail-docking of dogs was welcome, she said, recognising as it did that animals should not routinely have body parts removed unless there were over-riding welfare reasons to do so.

That approach should be extended to all mutilations of animals because "it is astonishing that it is currently legal to cause such pain in this manner".

The Executive was putting out a mixed message, she said. Tail docking of pigs, for example, is rarely used now, but the legislation would still permit it.

There were other examples of techniques seldom used which would remain technically, and unnecessarily, legal she said.

"Rather than automatically legislating to permit a wide range of mutilations, the Scottish Executive ought to review the current use of each of these procedures."

Advocates for Animals provide a formidable list of mutilations carried out on farmed animals, working animals, animals used in sport and entertainment and companion animals, including dogs, cats, horses, birds, fish and reptiles.

They include castration, tail-docking, removing horn buds from calves, de-horning older cattle, branding, tattooing, ear-notching, ear-tagging, de-beaking and de-clawing, nose-ringing, teeth-clipping and teeth grinding.

The report suggests there is "a significant body of evidence" to prove that many mutilations are painful, adding: "They are often proposed as acceptable solutions to perceived or real problems in managing animals and are claimed to be in the animals' best interests, for example by preventing injury from fighting. We would like to see such problems addressed by changing management practices and/or the application of new technology, such as infra-red debeaking of chickens or chemical castration."

Advocates for Animals said a public opinion poll it had commissioned indicated that nine out of ten people believed all, or some, animal mutilations should be banned.

James Withers, the deputy chief executive of NFU Scotland, said: "Mutilation is an emotive word and is used as such in this response. Unless you explain that practices like tail-docking or castration can deliver an animal welfare benefit, then the public response will be understandably one-sided."

He added: "Our argument is that some short-term discomfort can deliver a long-term welfare benefit. Without tail-docking of lambs, there would be a serious flystrike problem. Without castration, we would remove animals from extensive farming systems and face potentially serious pregnancy problems. Without de-horning, there would be more injuries to cattle."

A reasoned debate was needed, he said, and the Executive's proposals were mainly sensible.


THE need for more flexible rules for emergency on-farm cattle slaughter is backed by a recent survey of veterinary practices, NFU Scotland claimed yesterday.

The union said it would use the evidence next week when its representatives meet the Food Standards Agency, which administers the rules.

Until January this year, two methods were available to deal with cattle which could not be taken from farm to slaughterhouse. For those under 30 months old a vet could authorise on-farm slaughter, if facilities were available, while older animals were dealt with under the over 30-month casualty system, also authorised by a vet. Under new European hygiene rules animals can now only be used for human food after on-farm emergency slaughter if they have suffered an "accident".

This, the union says, causes significant problems with cattle which have minor ailments preventing travel.

More than 95 per cent of vets reported recognising cattle on clients' farms suitable for the food chain, but which were excluded by the regulations, more than 90 per cent believed that the responsibility of determining the eligibility of cattle for slaughter should lie with a vet and more than 88 per cent believed that this level of decision making would contribute to animal welfare.

LONDON FUTURES MARKETS - Closing prices and movement: Wheat: Jan 93.50 (-50p); Mar 95.50 (-50p); May 97.25 (-50p); Jul 98.80 (-50p); Nov 87.80 (+20p); Jan 89.80 (+20p); Mar 91.80 (+30p); May 93.25 (+5p); Jul 94.75 (+5p); Nov 90.25 (-25p). Volume, 484 lots.

London Potatoes: Apr 229.70 (+20p). Volume, 15 lots.

Dutch Potatoes: Apr 272.30 (+1). Volume, 80 lots.

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