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Lobbying through Public Consultation

Updated: Apr 2

Public consultations are increasingly common in Western democracies, could animal advocates leverage from them to influence policy?

Authors: Max Carpendale



DESCRIPTION OF THE ASK


Governments often conduct public consultations in which stakeholders can submit their view on a proposed policy. This is especially common in Western democracies such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the European Union. Perhaps because of pressure for governments to be perceived as more participatory, their use has become more prevalent over time (Kerley and Starr 2000). Additionally, they are often practised by sub jurisdictions within countries, such as states, provinces or cities.


The exact terminology used to refer to this process varies by region, but we will refer to this as “consultations” for public consultations for those that are publicly accessible.


Many public consultations present an opportunity for the animal advocacy movement to influence policy, thereby benefiting the lives of animals. However, due to resource constraints, many impactful public consultations are missed by the movement.


This approach could involve establishing an organisation of just two or three people to a) build a database of jurisdictions around the world that regularly use public consultations, b) monitor upcoming consultations that could affect the lives of animals, c) write and make submissions to those consultations, and d) coordinate with animal advocates in particular jurisdictions to make similar submissions. This organisation could both prepare submissions itself and assist local organisations who may be unaware of the consultation or may not have the capacity to organise an independent response.


This is a form of government lobbying, but it is a unique one - the policy windows are open for a short but highly predictable time, it is very cheap and easy to make a submission, and governments are often required by law to consider the views expressed in submissions when developing the final policy. As such, our research on this approach builds on our previous report on the impact of lobbying - there we concluded that lobbying does influence policy at least some of the time (Springlea 2022).


Many obvious submissions do get attention from animal advocacy organisations. For example, large organisations like the RSPCA often coordinate responses to consultations involving farmed animal regulations, companion animal cruelty laws, wildlife management, and so on.


However, it is easy to miss opportunities in adjacent policy fields, even when the potential impacts on animals could be large. For example, there is often a profound effect on animals from biosecurity policies, non-welfare farming regulations, invasive species management, fisheries policy, many development/industry activities, and so on. It is particularly easy to miss consultations in smaller jurisdictions (e.g. states and districts), even if these consultations could affect the lives of thousands or millions of animals. Some past examples, which we chose arbitrarily from a quick online search, include:


Of course, the animal advocacy movement would not have been able to influence all of these policies - but the movement could have influenced many. Particularly if one considers the multitude of national, state, and local governments that are holding public consultations at any given time, this could represent a major opportunity for the animal advocacy movement to sway many policies, thereby improving the lives of animals.


Theory of Change





TABLE OF CONTENTS



WHAT ARE CONSULTATIONS AND WHERE ARE THEY HELD?


The use of consultations is most common in wealthier and more democratic countries, such as countries in the OECD. In contrast, authoritarian governments are not bound to hold consultations as they are less accountable to public opinion more generally. Having said this, just as authoritarian governments may still hold elections in order to preserve a facade of democracy, they also sometimes engage in public consultations. 


Consultations can be divided into formal and informal consultations.

  • Informal consultations: Refers to “all forms of discretionary, ad hoc, and unstandardised contacts between regulators and interest groups” (Delia Rodrigo, n.d.).  They could resemble public officials contacting various interest groups that they have contact with or recognize as important for that decision at hand. Informal consultations are practised in virtually every OECD country (Delia Rodrigo, n.d.) and almost any country will do at least some form of limited consultation with stakeholders, even if it is especially informal.

  • Formal consultations: Refers to the standardised and regimented consultations. There will be clear rules for submissions as well as a defined notice period. These may be open to the public.


It can be difficult to take advantage of informal consultations since by definition they are initiated by the government, and there is no open call that others can become aware of and respond to. By their nature, informal consultations will also be more difficult to study, but we suspect that because fewer groups may be reached out to in these cases, responding to informal consultations could be particularly high-impact. 


There may be things that groups can do to be approached more often for informal consultations, such as networking with politicians. For example, Hermansson (Hermansson 2016) finds that in the context of EU lobbying, having an office in Brussels is predictive of success, as others have found having an office in Washington is predictive of success in US lobbying (Berry 2010).


A form of public consultation that we see more commonly in Europe is consultations regularly posted online to a regular web portal. For example, the European Commission maintains the Have Your Say portal for this purpose.


The rest of this report will refer more to formal consultations since by their nature they are easier to study and they are open for many groups to respond to, so an analysis of their impact is substantially more valuable. However, we suspect that if you are approached for an informal consultation, it will be very worthwhile to respond to it. 


One important way that groups may be able to have a lot of impact is by responding to consultations that few other groups are responding to. To the extent to which expertise is an important factor in responding to consultations, multiple responses by groups with the same concerns may be less valuable since there will typically be significant overlap in their responses. Additionally, large consultations with a great degree of public interest are harder to  influence because various other interest groups are in competition for influence (Todorova 2020b). We would therefore not be surprised if a significant amount of the value generated by global groups working on this would be identifying and responding to more neglected consultations such as these.


One potential weakness of a centralised global organisation would be a lack of direct presence on the ground in key locations. This can enable networking which can provide an opportunity for organisations to be involved in consultations. Participation in informal consultations is helped by maintaining a local presence, such as an office in Brussels for EU lobbying organisations or an office in Washington for US lobbying organisations (Berry 2010; Hermansson 2016).  


To get around this, an organisation could focus specifically on publicly accessible consultations or it could try to use the connections of local groups on the ground. They could instead be invited to these consultations and this global organisation could provide input to them. This would however require maintaining relationships with groups in many regions of the world, which could introduce some difficulties for a small organisation.


LITERATURE REVIEW


Consultations can be considered to be a specific type of lobbying (expert interview). In a previous report we attempted to examine the impact of lobbying with an eye to finding out how likely it is for lobbying to succeed compared to the counterfactual. Unfortunately, we found that this question is a vexed one, and no such precise numerical estimate can be taken at face value. Nevertheless, we found that there are qualitative reasons to think that lobbying may be impactful, with no one in the literature seriously believing that it has no significant effect.


Much of the specific literature on public consultations analyses their effects on increasing democratic participation and the feeling of democratic legitimacy. This relates to the literature on lobbying in general, which has not paid careful attention to the actual policy influence of lobbying, perhaps because of difficulty studying the subject (Mahoney 2007). Having said that, literature does exist on the efficacy of consultations in driving policy change. 


Do responses to consultations influence policy?

The general academic literature shows that making submissions in public consultations often affects policy, but not always. The effect, as in any instance of lobbying, depends on the context. Many relevant academic sources focus on consultations in the EU and its Member States.


Some governments have written explicit policies regarding how consultation should be carried out – and importantly for our purposes – how the feedback should be taken into consideration. The UK government’s code of practice on consultations is one example of this. 


Typically, the guidelines suggest that the government should be very responsive to the feedback. For example, the UK government lists criterion six of the consultation exercise as  “responsiveness of consultation exercises” and writes that “All responses (both written responses and those fed in through other channels such as discussion forums and public meetings) should be analysed carefully, using the expertise, experiences and views of respondents to develop a more effective and efficient policy” (UK Government 2008).


However, we should expect some deviation from this in practice. This is particularly the case as these documents are published for public consumption and it would look bad for the government to admit any ways in which they are unresponsive to criticism or feedback.


Some key sources are:

  • Ahteensuu and Siipi (Ahteensuu and Siipi 2009) examine public consultations on the topic of genetically modified organisms in the EU and its Member States, giving a somewhat pessimistic view of policy influence. The authors claim that, ideally, public consultation lets policy solutions be found by rational discussion and deliberation with no voting necessary (in practice, this is not how consultations typically work - discussed further below). The authors point out that in some cases, only specific types of information will be considered and can affect the final decision. For example, in Finland's consultations on scientific field trials, the only information that the government will consider is new information concerning the scientific risk assessment. The authors conclude: "In these cases, the room left for effective comments is thus highly limited, if not totally absent in practice."

  • Quittkat and Kotzian (Quittkat and Kotzian 2011) give a systematic study of written consultations in the EU. The authors conclude that online consultations indeed "capture the plurality of views and stakes in society", implying that making submissions can influence policy. Of particular interest is their conclusion that participating in an online submission can lead to a longer-term relationship with policymakers: "Participation in inclusive online consultations, often the starting point of a new policy-making cycle, increases participation in other, more exclusive consultation instruments, where participants are selected by the organisers".

  • Todorova (Todorova 2020b) analyses online submission of interest group comments in EU open consultations, concluding that “High degree of influence was only obtained when technical issue was at stake that did not touch or that was in line with core political intentions of the proposed document.” Therefore, technical consultations of limited interest to other interest groups were the ones where the greatest influence could be achieved.

  • In a preprint analysing the effect of public consultations in Wales, Kaehne and Taylor (Kaehne and Taylor 2016) find that “individuals and organisations may struggle to effectively influence legislation.” However, they do not clearly spell out their reasoning and evidence behind this claim.

  • Coleman (Coleman 2004) analyses two case studies of the use of the (then relatively novel) internet as a means of facilitating public consultations. They find that the participants had a number of difficulties surrounding knowledge and trust in the internet. Given the age of the study these findings may have little relevance today.

  • Chalmers (Chalmers 2020) provides a similar analysis, focusing on the finance industry in the EU. The author concludes that "the vast majority of lobbying efforts end in failure". Though we are unsure about how this result will generalise to animal welfare, we highlight this more pessimistic finding here to temper expectations.

  • Kerley and Starr (Kerley and Starr 2000) analyse public consultations and Australia. They claim that there have been few rigorous attempts to evaluate whether  consultations of processes improve policy outcomes. 

  • Innes and Booher (Innes and Booher 2004) make perhaps the boldest claim in the literature, arguing that, at least in the US, public consultations are, essentially, not listened to and do not substantially affect policy. They argue that, as practised, public consultations in the US are effectively counterproductive on their own terms: they do not change anything and they only sow mistrust among those attempting to utilise them for change. Worse, they argue that the consultations can pit activists against each other, as they must speak in a polarised way in responding to consultations, rather than through healthy dialogue. They believe that these problems are not fixed at all, but that there are a variety of significant reforms that would have to be implemented in order to allow for productive and effectual dialogue. It is unclear as to what extent the authors believe that this would apply to other countries.

  • In an analysis of 8000 policy recommendations from 693 stakeholders, Hermansson (Hermansson 2016), focusing on environmental consultations, asks: "What determines whether a policy recommendation from stakeholders will be adopted by the European Commission?" The author concludes that the information provided is indeed often incorporated in final policies. (We discuss further conclusions of this paper in the next section).

  • Conrad et al. (Conrad et al. 2011) analyses the case of public consultations in Malta, finding that they often do have an influence on decisions. Specifically, public concerns over land use in Malta seem to have had a significant influence through consultations, mostly “large-scale developments in sensitive sites”, and public planners expressed cynicism regarding the public’s engagement with consultations. Some of the public planners responded that public participation is largely done because it is a legal requirement, not because of  a genuine desire to listen to what the public has to say. They described it as “ticking the box and saying, yes, we consulted the public”. Other public planners responded that many of the public suggestions were absurd and uninformed and were often responding to consultation out of an illegitimate motivation such as “jealousy, NIMBYism, personal vendettas”. Others said that the public simply expects politicians to defer to them even though they lack basic technical knowledge and expertise to make that reasonable. Public consultations on planning in Malta may be particularly contentious, because the country is very small and densely populated, the hard choices have to be made with the placement of infrastructure such as power plants. Nevertheless, this paints a less than optimistic picture of the policy influence of consultations, even if they can have significant influence in some cases.


Which factors are predictive of influence?

Some studies have also specifically examined the question of whether the public's submissions influence the final policy. Ultimately the most important factor may be demonstrating expertise (Bernhagen, Dür, and Marshall 2015; Hermansson 2016). This can be done through demonstrating a command of the relevant literature, especially being aware of and responding to counterarguments against your position.


For consultations that may be difficult to push for based on pure animal welfare arguments, an approach of raising various concerns, (such as human health and environmental arguments) may be useful. This is particularly true in the case of consultations regarding insects and other invertebrates, when the welfare potential of these animals is not yet commonly considered. 


The relative influence of different interest groups in their consultation lobbying has been relatively less studied. Despite this, the literature suggests that expertise and lobbying as a business (though some analyses suggest that this is mediated through expertise) are important success factors. This is consistent with the general literature success factors for lobbying in general (Bernhagen and Bräuninger 2005)


A contrasting role that consultations could be thought to play is allowing the government to identify important considerations that were missing in their analysis and to generally have their proposal critiqued. Governments may have limited capacity to identify all important considerations in advance and some people may have important information that is not widely available and would therefore be missed in any isolated attempt to answer the question. One expert we spoke with noted that the European Commission was particularly influenced by expertise in its submissions. 


When a government is more motivated by this factor, the best way to do well in these consultations is to focus on rigorous submissions that put forward new arguments and considerations while demonstrating engagement with counter arguments. For demonstrating expertise, the raw number of submissions is not intrinsically important. Instead, they only play the role of allowing for more distinct considerations to be presented.


These submissions should display a command of relevant information, including all relevant political and technical knowledge, with technical knowledge being particularly valuable. They should demonstrate an understanding of all relevant considerations and anticipate potential counterarguments.


Some authors argue that the impact of other factors that appear to be significant on their own reduce down to expertise. For example, Todorova (Todorova 2020a) finds that businesses exert more influence on policy than do NGOs. They argue that this may be because businesses tend to have higher expertise, including greater understanding of the policy at hand, greater scientific knowledge, and greater technical knowledge.


Similarly, Yackee and Yackee (Yackee and Yackee 2006) found that businesses tended to exert more control over policy than do NGOs. This was the case because of the number of comments submitted by business interests and because of the greater expertise shown by business commenters. They found that business commenters showed a better understanding of the technical aspects of the consultation question and more often cited data and studies to back up their claims.


This ‘finding the most expert argument tends to win’ is in some ways a hopeful one. However, this should be understood in its proper context. There is still a great deal of variation or noise in the success of consultations, so even a response demonstrating a great deal of expertise may fail to influence. Additionally, even with strong moral arguments on their side, animal advocates may struggle to do better than businesses who can pay a premium to ensure expert submissions.


Fraussen (Fraussen, Albareda, and Braun 2020) describes another factor by which businesses may dominate consultations. This is the known issue in the literature on consultations that businesses tend to be more actively engaged than citizens or other groups such as NGOs in the process of public consultations. They find that businesses have less influence in closed consultations (consultations where the government just ask particular groups for input rather than having an open publicly accessible call for submissions).


It is unclear why this happens, though it could be because businesses are disproportionately likely to submit to these consultations, such that a selected sample of people who the government reaches out to is more representative because it avoids this bias caused by a disproportionate number of submissions by businesses.


Hermansson (Hermansson 2016) finds that “wealthy business interests” have a significant advantage in consultations put out by the European Commission. He finds that this holds even in cases where business organisations have little or no expertise, suggesting that there is some bias towards these organisations. He concludes that this influence is mediated through privileged access to the decision-makers. However, he concludes that expertise remains the more significant factor.


This is in line with Bernhagen (Bernhagen, Dür, and Marshall 2015) who find that having greater expertise and information is associated with better lobbying outcomes during consultations. They find that being better connected within a targeted institution is also helpful, but only insofar as it provides you with the opportunity to apply that expertise. In other words, this study finds that knowing the right person does not in itself mean you will be able to shape policy as a lobbyist.


Finally, another factor that several experts recommended as being particularly impactful in responding to consultations is demonstrating that you have the agreements of a variety of stakeholders such as being part of a broad coalition. They noted that demonstrating that you have the support of unexpected stakeholders is something that can make civil servants and politicians stand up and take notice. In the case of animal advocacy, this could include demonstrating that you have the support of farmers or others in the animal agriculture industry (expert interview).


CASE STUDIES


Here, we examine six examples of government consultations that provide a concrete picture of how submissions can influence a final policy. We chose some of these examples due to our familiarity with them, but also to illustrate the vast variation in numbers of responses (~60,000 vs 6), the different approaches that governments use to incorporate the public responses in the final policy. 


Revision of EU animal welfare legislation

Between May 20, 2020 and July 29, 2020 the European Commission ran a consultation on its roadmap to revise animal welfare legislation. Following this, they ran a consultation on the final version between October 2021 and January 21, 2022 concerning a revision to many different pieces of EU animal welfare legislation (EC 2022). The goal was to improve animal welfare legislation, aligning it with current scientific evidence and public expectations. 59,281 respondents contributed. This included 537 submissions by businesses and 266 submissions by NGOs. There are also 116 submissions by academics and researchers.


49% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there is more uniform production of farmed animals across the EU compared to 25 years ago. However, 92% of respondents thought that this animal welfare legislation “does not ensure adequate or uniform production of all animal species in need”. Other responses on specific welfare reforms are broadly in line with this, with overwhelming support for various proposed reforms, such as phasing out cages, prohibiting tail docking, introducing maximum journey times, banning the export of live animals, banning electric water bath stunning of chickens, and banning chick maceration.


Following this, the European commission agreed to perhaps the most significant set of welfare reforms ever proposed, including phasing out cages for all farmed animals.


However, this was not realised. Details are still coming out, but it seems like a concerted lobbying effort by the meat industry may have been responsible for a last minute U-turn by the European Commission (Neslen 2023). All of the reforms, except for an animal in transit reform, have been punted to the next European Commission (and arguably abandoned outright). Large cost-of-living increases, caused in part by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, may have also contributed to a reluctance to risk any more increases (Katanich 2023).


Animal transport in the UK

The consultation Improvements to animal welfare in transport was opened for public comment by the UK Government in December 2020 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2020). 11,395 responses were received during the submission period, which lasted from 3 December to 25 February in the following year. A summary of these responses, and their effect on the final policy proposal, were published in August 2021 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2021). We focus here on the details of the public consultation and the government's response to it - the final details of the policy, as implemented in legislation, will still depend on a range of other factors as part of the last stages of the policymaking process.


Perhaps due to the large number of responses, the government's summary of responses made excessive use of vote-counting, i.e. "X% of respondents agreed/disagreed with a particular proposal". This suggests that the government places at least some emphasis on views that receive a large amount of stated support in submissions, independent of what those views actually are.


The 11,395 responses consisted of individual responses (from private citizens, industry bodies, businesses, animal welfare organisations, etc) as well as campaign responses: 7,445 identical responses that were coordinated by an RSPCA campaign; 184 responses coordinated by Animal Aid; and a single response from Compassion in World Farming that presented a petition with 111,295 signatures. Each of these three campaign responses were summarised in detail in their own box in the summary report.


The main structure of the summary document is essentially a point-by-point list that gives the percentage of people who agree or disagree with particular proposals.


We list two of these proposals in the table below: one for the proposed ban on live export, and one for the proposed maximum journey times.


The government's proposed ban on live export was well-supported, with 87% of respondents agreeing. Most of these respondents were associated with the RSPCA campaign. The government's final policy statement confirmed that this ban will go ahead. In other words, the initial proposal was kept unchanged, and this represents a win for animals. The campaign by the RSPCA appears to have played a large part in this decision.


The government's proposed new maximum journey times were polarising. Animal advocates argued for shorter maximum journey times, and industry members argued for longer maximum journey times. The government's final policy statement confirmed that new maximum journey times would still be introduced. The specific times were unchanged for all animals, except for: newly hatched broiler chickens, for whom the proposed 21 hours was increased to 24 hours; and newly weaned pigs, for whom the proposed 6 hours was increased to 12 hours. The fact that many of the proposed maximum journey times were kept could be seen as a win for animals, but the fact that some of the proposed times were increased can be seen as a loss for animals.


Some of the other key policy proposals that formed part of this consultation (e.g. space allowances, temperature limits) showed a similar result to that of the maximum journey times.



Bird conservation in Australia

We now turn our attention to a much smaller public consultation in a different jurisdiction. This is the public consultation on the Draft Recovery Plan for Eastern Osprey and White-bellied Sea Eagle in South Australia (Department of Environment and Water 2022). This consultation is not directly relevant to animal welfare, but it nevertheless provides some insight for our purposes.


In this consultation, only 26 submissions were made. Therefore, this consultation had a much, much smaller scale compared to the thousands of submissions made to the above UK consultation. Of the 26 submissions, 5 were specifically identified with non-profit organisations (e.g. environmental protection groups or birdwatching clubs).


It is noteworthy that the submission period lasted from 21 December 2021 to 28 January 2022. This is a period of just a few weeks, opening immediately before Christmas and closing not long after the holiday period. Though we are speculating here, we are aware of instances in South Australia where policymakers deliberately make the more unattractive policy announcements (such as those relating to the population decline of charismatic animal species) on days when people are busy or when media attention is focused elsewhere. Admittedly, the submission window in the above UK consultation was at a similar time of year, though a bit longer.


The government's summary of responses (Department of Environment and Water 2022) listed every point made by every person who made a submission. The plan was amended where a submission "provided additional information of direct relevance to management" or "suggested an alternative approach that was considered more appropriate than that proposed in the draft plan". In many cases, the plan was not amended (e.g. where a submission "addressed issues beyond the scope of the plan" or "proposed an alternative approach but the recommendation of the draft plan was still considered the most appropriate option"). Although these criteria give the government substantial latitude for exercising its own judgement, this demonstrates an openness and willingness to consider new information and alternative approaches to the specifics of a policy.


A number of amendments were made to the Plan, though most were very minor. We outline three amendments in the table below.


For two amendments, specific clauses were added to the plan in response to specific concerns raised in submissions. Four submissions raised concerns about the risks of eagles being killed by power lines; the government amended the plan to specify the development of a risk management and mitigation plan for electricity infrastructure. Seven submissions raised concerns about specific risks to eagles, such as driving on beaches and minimum flying heights for aircraft; the government amended the plan to specify the implementation of policies to afford greater protection to eagle-occupied sites.


The third amendment that we present here was slightly different - one submission requested that a particular clause in the Plan be amended to specifically name tourism as a threat to eagles. The government responded by amending the clause as requested. This suggests that making highly specific changes to clauses might be possible in some cases - in the context of animal welfare, this could be a useful way to tighten up the wording of regulations, specifically name some group of animals (e.g. fish) as being protected under a regulation, and so on.


Human consumption of insects in Singapore

The government of Singapore held a public consultation from October 5, 2021 to December 4, 2022 to reconsider the Government’s ban on the human consumption of insects. The consultation was opened following a review by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA 2021) which concluded that they should allow the import of insects and insect products for human consumption.


Following this consultation, 16 species of insects including crickets, silkworms, mealworms and grasshoppers will be allowed for human consumption in Singapore starting in the second half of 2023 (SFA 2022b).


Though the main driver of the edible insect industry is production to feed to other farmed animals, because of the huge numbers of insects that must be used, the human consumption of insects still remains a large source of suffering. This is because, though the consumption of some insects is practised in China and Malaysia and the predominant ethnicities in Singapore, the practice is still far from common (Tan 2023). Nevertheless, the legalisation of this also opens up a significant risk of the industry making the practice significantly popular through a marketing campaign.


This consultation includes some restrictions such as that: 

  • Insects for consumption are not harvested from the wild

  • “Manure, decomposing organic material and materials of ruminant origin are not used as feeding substrates”


In cases where it may be hard to argue for a full ban based on pure concern for animal welfare, focusing on health concerns such as these in consultation responses can be especially valuable. Even in more difficult cases such as this, it is plausible that with greater participation in the consultation there could have been additional restrictions that could have limited the industry and improved insect welfare, as well as human health and environmental outcomes. For example, the consumption of insects can trigger allergic reactions in people who are allergic to crustaceans and there could be more regulations surrounding this.


53 responses in total were received to this consultation. Some of the responses were just generally in favour, with some suggesting adding new species to the proposed list allowable for human consumption or questioning restrictions on life stages allowable for consumption. Other comments asked for clarification on different points. Finally some comments presented different concerns with human consumption ranging from simple disgust or finding it to be unnatural, to a variety of specific concerns including:

  • Disease risk if wild insects are allowed for consumption

  • Food safety concerns and disease risk based on substrates used to feed the insects

  • Concern over human health effects from the consumption of chitin

  • Labelling requirements for products to less that they contain insects with

(SFA 2022a)


In addition to this consultation, a petition against lifting the ban received 1275 signatures. The petition mentions various human health concerns, but no animal welfare arguments.


We think that submissions to this consultation would have been particularly impactful. This is because of the great number of animals involved, the potential to halt the industry before it gets going, and the potential to set a precedent for other countries. This is a case where one group working on consultations globally might have been particularly helpful. As a small country in a generally neglected region, there is little animal advocacy done in Singapore  from an impact focused perspective.


Maximum nutrient values and fish feeds in Canada

This was a consultation held by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency between February 23, 2018 to March 30, 2018 (Government of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Animal Health Directorate 2019). Only six sets of written comments were received for this consultation. Of these, three were from individuals in the feed industry, two were from associations in the feed industry and one was from an academic institution.

 

This could be an opportunity to:

  • Push the idea of greater plants and algae-based feeds for fish and push for favourable regulations for this

  • Push for consideration for more nutritious foods for fish (to increase their welfare)

  • Try to get the industry regulated more on its negative externalities


In particular, pushing for lower fish meal and fish oil content and higher plant and algae content would have been particularly valuable, introducing the suffering of the many animals  killed in fish meal production. There are significant environmental, as well as animal welfare arguments for this, and the former in particular could have motivated some improvement in the final policy.


The fact that only six responses were received to this consultation, and that none of them seem to be considering animal welfare, suggests that various points may have been missed. 


Consultation on Animal welfare labelling in the UK

DEFRA ran a consultation on the labelling of products in the UK according to animal welfare standards between September 13, 2021 and 6 December 2021 (DEFRA 2022). The proposal was for mandatory labelling of animal products in the UK according to welfare standards used in production.


There were 1,633 responses, 93% from individuals and 7% from organisations. Of this, a total of 14 charities responded. The public and civil society organisations favoured mandatory labelling while the industry favoured only an industry led labelling approach, with approximately one half opposing any reform. There was broad general support for mandatory labelling of imported products. Both the animal welfare benefits as well as the consumer information and freedom arguments were widely mentioned.


Ultimately, a plan for a further consultation on the subject, and ultimately the whole proposal, was dropped due to heavy criticism from a coalition of industry organisations. They argued that it would be significantly more costly but would not effectively educate consumers on the issues. Specifically they argued that it was possible to achieve high welfare in different production systems, some painting them with the broad brush associated with the production system which unfairly disadvantages them of these forms (Driver 2023).


This response is surprising given the overwhelming agreement with the proposal. What disagreement did exist came disproportionately from those in industry and largely took issue with specific aspects of the proposal, rather than the proposal as a whole. Nevertheless, along with several other proposed animal welfare amendments and reforms, all labelling requirements were dropped.


We think that marginal responses to this consultation would likely have lower value as compared to consultations to which fewer organisations responded. Additionally,  the negative result seen here in the face of very high support for the reform, is an update away from the power of consultations.


CRUCIAL CONSIDERATIONS  


There are two important considerations that will determine how impactful it would be to fund a small team of people focused on responding to consultations:

  • How many missed opportunities for policy influence are there? We suspect that there are many across the various national, state, and local governments around the world. But the first step of this approach would be to confirm this suspicion. This could involve a review of all consultations in all jurisdictions over the past few years; an analysis of how many submissions those consultations received from other interest groups; and an analysis of how an animal advocacy organisation could have suggested policy alternatives to improve the lives of animals.

  • How often does the government incorporate proposals made in submissions? We know that the government incorporates proposals sometimes - that is, greater than 0% of the time, but less than 100% of the time. A quantitative analysis, ideally focusing on animal welfare-related consultations, would help refine this parameter and give a better estimate of how much policy influence we could expect to have. This analysis could be complemented by conducting interviews with government employees.


CONCLUSION AND REMAINING UNCERTAINTIES 


Consultations provide one important avenue through which effective lobbying is possible. The public nature of them, as well as the focus on expertise provides an opportunity for a central organisation to work on this globally. A new organisation could provide value by identifying consultations that might otherwise be missed due to being in regions with few animal advocacy organisations, by being niche, or by requiring expertise not possessed by the organisations in that area. Additionally, existing organisations could consider responding to more of these consultations as they come up. The case studies section provides some examples of consultations such as these.


Best practices in responding to consultations centre around demonstrating expertise, with having the right connections also being important, especially to get your foot in the door. Business interests tend to have an advantage in consultations, though much of that advantage may be mediated through expertise and connections.


APPENDIX: OTHER ANALYSES OF CONSULTATIONS


A report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA 2019) analysed 26 public consultations  that took place in the EU between 2016 and 2018. They carried out a survey of the participants in addition to consulting a panel of experts. Only 5.5% of people who had participated in one of these consultations were satisfied with the process. This was done to assess a number of things including how often the European Commission made use of contributions by citizens and stakeholders. They also concluded that the European Commission needed to be better at outreach to stakeholders to receive the contributions.


They note that between the years of 2015 and 2018 the European Commission conducted a total of 417 public consultations. The average number there is considerably lower: around 500 participants in each of 2015 and 2016 or 2000 participants in 2017 and 2018 (excluding the top consultation with the most contributors in each year as an outlier). There is a great deal of variation in how many responses consultations receive. One of these consultations  with an outlier number of submissions took place in 2018, receiving 4.6 million responses. Though, to put this in perspective, this represents only about 1% of the EU population.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


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