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Bovine Somatotropin

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what advice he has received from the Farm Animal Welfare Council on the welfare implications of using bovine somatotropin to increase milk production.

The chairman of the council, Professer Sir Richard Harrison, wrote the following letter to my right hon. Friend the Minister on 26 October:

Dear Minister
Mr. Jopling wrote to me on 27 April requesting the Council's advice by the end of September on the welfare implications of using bovine somatotropin to increase milk production.
The investigation was undertaken by a small Working Group of members whose recommendations have been endorsed by the full Council. As Mr. Jopling recognised the time available to us was limited and I must point out that it has not proved possible to carry out as searching and wide-ranging an investigation as we would have wished. Those whom we consulted were under similar constraints due to the tight timetable.
Before drawing up our recommendations, we considered confidential data from the pharmaceutical companies actively engaged in work on BST. We also received written submissions from the Farmers Unions, MMB, BVA and RCVS and animal welfare organisations. Oral evidence was taken from researchers who are conducting trials on the use of BST and from representatives of the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH). The Group also visited two farms where BST is being tested under commercial conditions, and had discussions with the farmers and their respective veterinary surgeons.
The following factors were examined: metabolic stress; administration of BST and its consequences; the occurrence and frequency of disease; reproductive efficiency; and ways in which husbandry might have to be modified, including nutritional implications.
We have concluded that, on the basis of the existing experimental work, including the continuing trials being carried out at the AFRC Institute for Grassland and Animal Production (IGAP) and on the farms visited, there is, at present, no evidence of any welfare problems arising from the use of BST in the short term. There are, however, areas of uncertainty which could have welfare implications where additional scientific information may be required in order to take a more considered opinion.
These areas are as follows:
  • (a) the time of administration to high yielding cows;
  • (b) the effect of BST on long-term reproductive efficiency;
  • (c) responses of cows differing in body composition and on differing levels of energy and protein nutrition, to BST;
  • (d) the effect of BST on potential skeletal problems in heifers;
  • (e) all aspects of performance of calves born from treated animals;
  • (f) the effect which exogenous growth hormone may have on the ability of the animal to produce endogenous growth hormone, and thus on subsequent unsupplemented performance;
  • (g) the use of BST over a number of lactations in the same animal.
  • The Council believes that results of such research work will need to be carefully considered before the longer term effects of using BST can be properly evaluated.If this further research provides satisfactory answers to these questions then there would be no fundamental objections on welfare grounds to the use of BST. However, if it shows that there is a genuine welfare problem, the Government will need to consider making regulations under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968.In addition there appear to be a number of potential welfare abuses which could arise from:

  • (a) use of BST to exploit over-stretched cull cows by extending lactation;
  • (b) lack of appropriate facilities for injection on some farms;
  • (c) administration of BST without adequate veterinary supervision;
  • (d) administration of BST to cows whose milk yield was depressed by reason of undiagnosed disease or metabolic disorders;
  • (e) inadequacy of nutritional levels in some systems.
  • The Council therefore recommends that guidelines for the commercial administration of BST, including monitoring of herd performance and health, should be drawn up in conjunction with the RCVS and that its use should be subject to veterinary supervision. This of course assumes that no welfare problems are revealed which necessitate more fundamental controls.
    I am copying this letter to the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales.
    Yours sincerely
    Richard Harrison