New plans to make CCTV in English slaughterhouses mandatory and give vets unrestricted access to all footage have been announced by the Government, raising privacy concerns for abattoir workers.
Opening a consultation on the proposals, Defra Secretary Michael Gove said they would ‘cement the UK’s position as a global leader’ on animal welfare.
The news has been welcomed by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the RSPCA, but the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), which represents small and medium-sized businesses in the slaughtering sector, claimed the new rules would infringe abattoir workers’ right to privacy.
In a statement, the group said: “We do not believe abattoir workers deserve to be subjected to constant scrutiny without their consent when other workers, for example in hospitals and care homes, are not subject to continuous CCTV monitoring by prosecuting authorities.
“We believe it is essential to ensure abattoir workers are treated no differently from workers in other industries and all other citizens.”
AIMS said CCTV was used in the vast majority of abattoirs already, and was a ‘valuable tool for management and training’, but could never replace the physical presence of officials in areas where live animals were handled.
The association claimed Food Standards Agency representatives could be ‘diverted from positive input’ on welfare by CCTV.
Animal welfare groups have been pushing for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses for several years, but Defra’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee stopped short of recommending it in a February 2015 report – estimating the cost of installing equipment and monitoring footage to be around £3,000 - £10,000 per abattoir.
The latest announcement could pile pressure on the devolved nations to follow the same course, with the Welsh Government already looking into the issue.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We support the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses. The vast majority of livestock in Wales is slaughtered in facilities which now use CCTV.
“Official veterinarians are present in every slaughterhouse to ensure compliance with regulations, and they have the power to seize CCTV footage if they suspect welfare standards are not being met.
“We note with interest the launch of the consultation in England and will continue to keep in regular contact with Defra to see how it progresses.”
The Scottish Government has already recommended the installation of CCTV as best practice, but a spokesman said it did not consider CCTV, by itself, would prevent welfare failures.
“We will, however, carefully consider the responses to the consultation on this in England”, he added.