AIMS responds to handling of animal welfare breach statistics

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has received a backlash after providing the Bureau of Investigative Journalism with statistics about breaches in animal welfare. 

Research suggested that, over a two-year period, there have been over 4,000 acts of severe animal welfare breaches at slaughterhouse level. The incidents have been labelled as ‘category 4’, representing the most distress inflicted on the animal.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) has expressed “grave concern” over the handling of the release of data under the Freedom of Information Act – with the association repeating its accusation that the actions from the agency are resulting in damaging national press coverage for the meat industry.

Almost one billion animals are processed every year and the FSA category 4 scores represent 0.000002% of that number.

“I hope the FSA brings industry to task, but I am curious as to how and why these statistics are being reported this time around,” commented AIMS’ veterinary advisor Craig Kirby, speaking on Radio 5Live’s Breakfast Show.

He highlighted that many of the incidents took place before the animal had even reached the slaughterhouse. “So, it’s unfair to target the slaughterhouses in particular in this report. Having worked in slaughterhouses for 20 years now, I can tell you we call them ‘the greatest post-mortem room in the country’ because it’s at the slaughterhouse where the officials are there and you see what’s going on in agriculture right across the country generally.”

Norman Bagley, head of policy at AIMS, said the FSA should have thought through the release of information more thoroughly. “What I cannot understand, is how the comms within FSA could have taken such a cavalier and seemingly thoughtless approach to the release of this information, not even informing its own operatives in the field, nor proofreading the data before it was released.

“It brings into question, once again, how this organisation is being handled and managed at the top.”

The FSA replied by stating: “The FSA is committed to openness and transparency and we, like any public body, are accountable under the Freedom of Information Act. We consider all requests on their merit and respond objectively, according to a strict criteria.”

Having produced a Guide to Good Practice on protecting the welfare of animals at slaughter, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said that all its members placed a high emphasis on protecting animal welfare and anything but the highest standards were unacceptable. A statement from the BMPA said: “Alongside our members’ own responsibility and undertakings to maintain the highest standards of animal welfare, independent, government-appointed vets are in each abattoir during their hours of operation as a further protection of and check on welfare.

“BMPA members, as well as giving their staff the legal training and qualifications required, also usually send their staff on additional welfare training courses and actively monitor welfare outcomes. All our member sites have an appointed animal welfare officer.”

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