26 October 2001

MPs sign for better farm animal welfare

By Isabel Davies

CELEBRITIES and MPs descended on Westminster to sign a life-size cardboard model of a cow and pledge their support for improving farm animal welfare.

Tory MP Ken Clarke and broadcaster Sarah Kennedy were among 150 people attending the event, which aimed to promote high welfare food products.

The event, organised by the RSPCA, was designed to encourage people to buy more welfare-friendly products.

It came as a group of 14 leading academics accused the public of failing to support the welfare efforts of British farmers. Consumer apathy is leading to problems in the British livestock sector which is already reeling from foot-and-mouth, they claimed.

But a new survey by Gallup suggests animal welfare is more important to 60% of shoppers now than before the F&M epidemic. The survey involved a random sample of over 2000 adults who were questioned by telephone between the end of September and the first week of October.

Mike Sharpe, spokesman for the RSPCAs Freedom Food label, said consumers could help improve welfare conditions with their purchasing power. But too many shoppers appeared to leave their ethics at the supermarket door, he added.

"Farmers cant be expected to continue to invest in improving conditions if the public wont support them at point of purchase. We need to make sure there is a robust marketplace for those producers who are farming to higher welfare standards."

John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University, said consumers claimed to want high welfare products but didnt put their money where their mouths were. He added: "This leaves many high welfare farmers high and dry, having invested heavily in good welfare practice, with no marketplace for their products."

The Farm Animal Welfare Council – the governments advisers on welfare issues – said the problem lay in the lack of transparency about welfare standards. Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, chairwoman of the FAWC, said better labelling was needed to allow consumer to make informed choices. &#42

Keeping a date with Daisy…dairy farmer Roy Eggleston with Kenneth Clarke, MP.