Charity accuses Staffordshire CC of abject failure over illegal abuse of baby goats

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Horns? What for?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Fotocredit: © fotoscool –

An undercover operation by animal charity Viva! two years ago filmed baby goats having their horn buds painfully and illegally burnt out without anaesthetic by unqualified farm workers at Upper Enson Farm, Stafford. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons maintained that disbudding without anaesthetic in this way was illegal and would have caused pain and great discomfort to these very young kids.

A vet? Too expensive.

Farm owner, Mr Nick Bandon, freely admitted that he was ignoring animal welfare rules that requires a vet to perform the procedures as it was too expensive. A prosecution for cruelty to animals appeared to be a formality.

Just for you to know (who don’t yet) what we are talking about watch the footage taken by Viva!

A complaint was immediately lodged by Viva! with Staffordshire Animal Health Department of Trading Standards but the charity was fobbed off for 24 months until eventually they had to use the Freedom of Information Act to discover the result of their complaint. It revealed very little as Staffordshire County Council invoked a string of ‘get-out’ clauses in the FoIA to avoid a full answer. It said that it was refusing disclosure for reasons of personal data, health and safety and commercial interests. It went on to justify its decision by saying that the public interest did not outweigh these exemptions (despite the fact that the original expose had been given nationwide coverage by the Daily Mail and produced huge public interest). The end result was that the Council issued a caution to the farm owner and nothing more.

Local goat farmer let off with a ‘slap on the wrist’ in excruciating mutilation cases

Justin Kerswell, Viva!’s Campaigns Manager, says: “Whenever we discover illegality and animal suffering we report it. Despite presenting undercover footage of scores of baby goats being mutilated without anaesthetic by unqualified staff and an opinion from the RCVS, it took two years of repeated emails and eventually a Freedom of Information request to get any kind of answer. And when it came, commercial interests were placed above animal suffering and the perpetrator simply got a slapped wrist.

“Staffordshire County Council have clearly scrabbled around looking for any loophole they can find to avoid having to take action. What does a farmer have to do to his or her animals before legal action is taken? And why was the county’s Animal Health Office unaware that one of the largest goat farms in Britain – under its jurisdiction – was working outside the law and causing severe suffering?

“Prosecutions for farmed animal cruelty are depressingly rare in Britain as we know well and we have always maintained that the rules and regulations that are meant to protect these animals are little more than smoke and mirrors. This case confirms it! If it was too expensive to follow animal welfare rules on this farm, what’s happening on the country’s other goat farms.

“Goat’s milk has been sold as the kinder option to cows’ milk and yet it mostly operates on the same philosophy – intensive factory farming with many male kids slaughtered at a day or two old. Those who survive are subjected not just to disbudding but painful castration, also. Viva!’s position is consistent and clear – to avoid encouraging cruelty, drop dairy and go vegan.”
1 The disbudding of goats must be carried out by a veterinary surgeon according to the Goats (England): Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB9733 & PB0081). “In the UK, goat disbudding is usually undertaken within the first seven days of life, as horn bud growth can be rapid. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 requires that the procedure must be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon. It is also recommended that it should be carried out under general anaesthesia.” David Harwood, Honorary Veterinary Surgeon, British Goat Society, AHVLA. The disbudding shown in the undercover footage was undertaken by a female farm worker on Upper Enson Farm. No anaesthesia was used during filming.

In light of the investigation by Viva!, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons clarified the legal position regarding the disbudding of goats. As reported in Vetsonline on the 17 August 2012 they concluded that there were no exemption orders allowing unqualified staff to undertake this painful procedure and concluded: “Only a veterinary surgeon may undertake the disbudding of goats and, due to the nature of the procedure, veterinary surgeons disbudding goats should administer anaesthetic.”

Other (legal) mutilations of kid goats at Upper Enson Farm included ear-tagging and the castration without anaesthetic of male kids. The footage shows kids crying out in pain throughout the procedures. In its March 2011 report FAWC (Farm Animal Welfare Council)’s report onmutilations in piglets said: “Mutilations involve handling stress, acute pain (short term, arising from tissue damage during the procedure) and the possibility of chronic pain (longer term, arising from nerve damage.” FAWC’s 2008 report into the mutilation of lambs concluded that: “… there is widespread acceptance that, without effective analgesia, all methods commonly used for both castration and tail docking of lambs cause pain and distress.” Although these reports do not cover goats specifically, it is reasonable to assume that similar welfare concerns would affect goats, also.

2 Viva!’s undercover investigation was covered by national newspaper the Daily Mail: The ‚cruel‘ goat farm where activists claim animals have the tips of their horns burned off with a metal tool to save money as demand for milk and cheese grows, 15 June 2012. In the article, the farm’s owner admitted ignoring animal legislation: “Nick Brandon, owner of Upper Enson Farm, admitted he was operating outside the rules on removing or disbudding horns. He said: ‘The disbudding is not quite as it should be and we are consulting with our vet to decide how to move forward.’ Asked why he has not used a vet, he said: ‘It is not economical for the number of goats we have got.”