Podcast discussing the Animal Welfare Conference on Thursday 13th Sept: Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

The animal welfare conference organised by the Irish Government Department of Agriculture was packed with speakers and topics. I have written a summary of the discussions below. You can listen to the radio discussion by clicking on the podcast at the foot of the page.

Executive summary.

The key significant issues were:

  1. The fact that the government is choosing to focus on animal welfare at all: this has to be positive
  2. The point that farm animal welfare is very closely linked to farmer welfare, and farmer mental health. This may help explain why sentencing for animal cruelty cases is sometimes apparently lenient and it focusses the need on us all to care for one another’s mental welfare.
  3. The speaker from McDonalds, emphasising that consumers CAN use their voice to make things change
  4. The Charity Regulator and the speaker from the Association of Dog and Cat Homes, both stressing the need for animal rescue groups to have high standards, which can be difficult in a poorly resourced, pressurised situation staffed by volunteers
  5. The improvements in the stray dog situation, with figures reduced dramatically in the past 15 years, and the new National Stray Dog Strategy aiming to reduce them by another 50% in the next decade
  6. Lots of talk about good work being done to help neglected horses across the country
  7. Finally, the launch of an open consultation on how to improve animal welfare in Ireland. Listeners can email awconferencesubmissions@agriculture.gov.ie

More detailed account is copied below:

Report from the Third Animal Welfare Conference

“Raising Animal Welfare Standards – Beyond Legislation” organised by Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine

Since the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 came into effect there has gradually been a more coordinated approach to the issue of animal welfare in Ireland.
There has been a greater awareness of, and concern for, the welfare of all animals across the population as a whole. This has been matched by the impact of the new legislation in bringing greater clarity to the responsibilities on animal keepers and more efficient enforcement options. Ongoing improvement in animal welfare in Ireland can be brought about by approaches to animal keeping that go beyond the minimal requirements, with a focus on raising standards of husbandry.
The conference aimed to bring together these trends into a new strategic direction.
This was explored from a variety of perspectives both national and international, concerned with both the farming and companion animal sectors and involving both the state. NGOs and other organizations.
Stakeholders were invited, including animal welfare groups, vets, and state employees
Each of these groups/ individuals has to deal with animals in different ways, bringing a wide variety of views and concerns.
The aim of the conference was to try to get these different strands to work together to raise the standards of the wide range of animals in Ireland.

Session 1 – Animal Welfare Standards – The Regulatory and the Wider Perspective

  1. Minister Creed Opening Address and summary of the day – see below
  2. Martin Blake, Chief Veterinary Officer. “Animal Welfare Strategy – Beyond Legislation”. An open consultation on how to improve animal welfare in Ireland was launched, which will be closing at the end of October
    If anyone has any thoughts on what can be done, please email awconferencesubmissions@agriculture.gov.ie
  3. Tomasz Grudnik, OIE Perspectives on Animal Welfare. OIE is the World Orgnisation on Animal Health, a global body that promotes communication between 182 different member governments. He presented a raft of different publications and agreements about the importance of animal health and welfare.
  4. Peter Garbutt, the sustainable Sourcing Manager from McDonalds talked about how raising farm animal welfare standards in response to consumer pressure for higher standards. There were some good examples of how McDonalds have improved welfare situations by putting pressure on suppliers, but the most interesting moment happened when Siobhan Luff from Pigs Ireland asked what percentage of McDonald’s pork/bacon comes from free range pigs. He refused to answer directly, even though she asked twice. Instead, he said “All pigs are sourced from Bord Bia approved farms”. He repeated this answer when asked again. The truth is that nearly all Bord Bia pork comes from intensively reared pigs. In my opinion, this means that in most cases, their welfare is deplorable. In private conversations afterwards, this topic was discussed further, and I certainly hope that in the future, McDonalds may be able to answer a question like this about bacon/pork sourcing more openly and positively.
  5. Catherine Devitt, a social scientist from UCD talked about a new report titled“Challenges and Solutions To Supporting Farm Animal Welfare in Ireland: Responding to the Human Element”. She emphasised the link between poor human mental health and consequent poor animal welfare, stressing the need for early action to prevent problems deteriorating. She talked about how farm vets have a complicated key role. They often act as social workers, having personal conversations with farmers about stress that the farmer does not discuss with anyone else, not even his wife. However the vet is not equipped to deal effectively with this stuff.

Session 2 – Companion Animals – Practical Considerations for a Varied Sector

  1. Helen Martin, the Charity Regulator, talked about good practice for NGOs. Regulation is new to the charities sector: the Charities Regulatory Authority was only set up 4 years ago. 169 charities say they are involved with the prevention or relief of suffering of animals, out of a total of 9617 charities in Ireland. Basically, there are rules that you need to follow to be classified as a charity. This is important to stop people chancing it, taking funds from gullible public to finance their own lifestyles. And sadly, this has happened in the past, under the guise of “animal welfare”. The Charity Regulator keeps an eye on what charities do, and if anyone has complaints about a charity, they can contact the regulator. In the first 6 months of this year, concerns were raised about 50 “entities” (charities, and non-charity groups) that were involved with animals.
  2. Peter Laurie, The Association of Dog and Cat Homes “Good Operating Standards For Animal Rescues” He talked about the importance of high standards for dog and cat rescues, to help animals & to reassure the public. The association helps animal rescues to improve their standards, including help with raising funds and applying for grants.There are only 6 members of ADCH in Ireland; more would be very welcome. Groups so far include ISPCA, Madra, Dogs Trust, Loais SPCA, PAWS rescue and Leitrim Animal Welfare Trust.
  3. James Madden, Leitrim Local Authority, “Welfare of Stray and Unwanted Dogs” He spoke about the significant improvements in the past 15 years, down from 25000 stray/surrendered dogs in 2004 to 12000 in 2007, with euthanasia numbers of such animals down from 16000 in 2004 to less than 1000 in 2017. He explained that the National Stray Dog Strategy is currently being formulated. Aim is to reduce number of stray dogs entering pounds by 50% to a about 6000 and the euthanasia rate by 50% to 3-400
  4. Finally a number of speakers spoke about horse welfare, including Susan O’Scannail with a North Dublin educational programme, the Moyross Horse Project, the Clondalkin Equine Project, and the Hungry Horse Outside charity. All receive funding from the Department of Agriculture and they each spoke briefly about their work.

Excerpts from Minister’s speech
Animal welfare is an area where significant steps forward have been taken in recent years. The understanding from all parts of the community on the need to treat animals with suitable care and appropriate husbandry has greatly improved. However with such a large population of animals in Ireland, operating in so many different aspects of Irish life, Animal Welfare is an area that will always require attention. As many of you no doubt are aware the Five Freedoms – which were formalised in the late 1970’s have long formed the basis for evaluating and assessing welfare needs of animals and these principles have been captured in much legislation across the world since that time – including in Ireland.

  • Today’s meeting has a very practical focus. We have a wide range of speakers but they all have useful experiences to share with us.
    Specific issues of concern, not all of which were discussed during the day:
  • Live transport and slaughter of farm animals There is a speaker today from the World Organisation on Animal Health – the OIE, which is the acknowledged world reference organisation for animal health. My Department is pleased to have given financial assistance to the OIE to support its global work in relation to animal welfare and specifically in relation to transport, slaughter and in particular in a new concept dealing with ‘whole journey scenarios’.
  • Welfare aspects of castration and no-stun slaughter for religious reasons In Ireland, we are fortunate to have well established groups such as the Farmed Animal Welfare Advisory Council under the chairmanship of Prof. Pat Fottrell and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Animal Health and Welfare under the Chairmanship of Dr Colm Gaynor. The latter have conducted important reviews on issues such as bovine castration and ritual slaughter.
  • The interaction between human mental health and animal welfare Farmers have experienced a very difficult year. The very poor spring and the long dry spell over the summer led to great hardship on farms. Catherine Devitt’s study on the difficulties which can occur in relation to welfare on farms help to form a useful basis for a more considered State response. Her talk today will be on the “Challenges and Solutions to Supporting Farm Animal Welfare in Ireland Responding to the Human Element”. Her views will benefit our Early Warning System which has been in operation for a number of years but will have an added focus this autumn in view of the difficult year that farmers faced.
  • The role of larger food-based companies in improving animal welfare The Quality Assurance Schemes as overseen by An Bord Bia continue to play an important role in underpinning our reputation as a major food exporter, and animal welfare is an important part of this. Mr Peter Garbutt from McDonalds has taken time off from his busy schedule to be with us today with a view to sharing his organisation’s perspective with us.
  • Regulation of animal charities The Charity Regulator has done important work in helping bring about greater probity in the charity sector; financial accountability is to the benefit of all genuine operators in the NGO world. Being registered with the Regulator gives members of the public confidence that their donations will be used correctly.
  • Focus on equine projects The issue of unwanted and abandoned horses has certainly improved in recent years. Supply and demand are now more in balance in the equine sector which has helped the situation, but there is still work to be done. My Department has been pleased to support some very worthwhile urban horse projects in recent years, as well as educational projects, including the Moyross project and the Clondalkin Equine Centre
    Animal Welfare Strategy for Ireland A consultation document was launched with a view to developing a national Animal Welfare Strategy for Ireland, outlined by Martin Blake the Chief Veterinary Officer. Public consultation is now being sought on this.
  • The sale and advertisement of pets in Ireland. Pet animals are increasingly advertised for sale online, as well as through “bricks and mortar” pet shops. It is timely to seek the public’s views on the sale of pets, to enhance our knowledge in this area, and assist the Department in developing policies that best assure the welfare of these animals. My Department will also take part in a voluntary EU initiative this autumn, which aims at gaining insight into current practices relating to the online sale of dogs and cats.

To listen to the podcast discussion between Pete the Vet and Pat Kenny, follow the link below.

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