The annual British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum (May 17) saw delegates vote for what they believed to be the most important animal welfare priorities for the new DEFRA ministerial team.

The annual British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum (May 17) saw delegates vote for what they believed to be the most important animal welfare priorities for the new DEFRA ministerial team.

Experts agree that exotic pets should be top animal welfare priority for the new GovernmentThe BVA AWF Discussion Forum brings together members of the veterinary profession, animal welfare organisations, and representatives of industry, government, and academia in order to identify and debate important welfare-related topics with a view to influencing future BVA welfare policy.

Delegates at the forum were asked “What would you ask the new DEFRA Minister?” and the top three welfare issues chosen were:

  1. Exotic pets – the lack of understanding about their care needs, the abandonment of fashionable pets, and the disease risk of importing exotics to the UK;
  2. Welfare education and labelling information – the need for impartial expert information for consumers on farm animal welfare, as well as food and farming education in schools; and
  3. Welfare surveillance and prioritisation – the need for a welfare surveillance system that will allow the Government to better prioritise welfare issues.

In total, nine ideas were presented to the audience by speakers Christopher Wathes (chair of the Farm Animal Welfare Council), James Kirkwood (deputy chair of the Companion Animal Welfare Council) and Peter Jinman (chair of the BVA’s Ethics and Welfare Group).

Each speaker presented his three ideas in six minutes, followed by an audience vote for the most important issue per speaker (full results below). The speakers were then given a further 5 minutes on their most important issue, followed by a final vote.

The result of the final vote was incredibly close:

  • Exotic pets: 43%
  • Impartial information for consumers: 41%
  • Welfare surveillance system: 16%

BVA president Bill ReillyBill Reilly, BVA president and trustee of the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation, said: “The BVA AWF Discussion Forum is one of the most important events in the animal welfare calendar and this year the level of debate and discussion has been exceptional.

“Animal welfare is of enormous interest to parliamentarians, but with limited resources we must prioritise the messages that we take to politicians. We therefore set ourselves a significant challenge to choose the most pressing animal welfare issues facing the new Government, and exotic pets and the need for better welfare education and information were the clear winners.”

Professor Reilly told how delegates heard about the significant disease risk posed by importing exotic animals to the UK, the deep concerns of the veterinary profession that fashionable exotic pets are soon abandoned, and the worry that pet owners don’t educate themselves well enough about the animals’ needs.

On consumer information, delegates heard that there is currently a lack of impartial information available to consumers to make an informed choice on the welfare of production animals used in the products on sale. By increasing the education of the public and the information available at the point of sale we could have a positive impact on the welfare of millions of farm animals.

He concluded: “The BVA’s Ethics and Welfare Group will now consider how best we can take forward these hugely significant welfare issues in the next Parliament and beyond.”

The full results of the debate are as follows:

What would you ask the new DEFRA Minister? Round one:

Christopher Wathes

Christopher Wathes: Farm Animal Welfare Council
Does the Government consider that it discharges its responsibilities as the guardian of farm animal welfare? 17%
Should the minimum standard of welfare for all animals be set at the test of whether they have a life worth living from their point of view? 36%
Should citizens be provided with independent, impartial, expert information about farm animal welfare? 47%

James Kirkwood

James Kirkwood: Companion Animal Welfare Council
Genetic welfare problems 22%
Need for a good system for welfare surveillance 48%
Problems associated with the sale and supply of companion animals 30%

Peter Jinman

Peter Jinman: BVA Ethics and Welfare Group
Broiler breeder hunger (chronic hunger caused by the limiting of food and water supply to fast-growing broiler chickens in order for them to successfully breed) 29%
Obesity (in companion animals, including equines) 23%
Import and care of exotic pets 47%

What would you ask the new DEFRA Minister? Round two:


Christopher Wathes – impartial information for consumers 41%
James Kirkwood – welfare surveillance system 16%
Peter Jinman – import and care of exotic pets 43%
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