Is the Welsh Government making big moves in farm animal welfare history?
A blog by Kate Parkes, section manager of our farm animals department.
The Royal Welsh Show returns
As the Royal Welsh Show returns, there are millions of reasons for farm animals to be optimistic.
There's always a buzz about the Royal Welsh Show - it's one of the most important agricultural events and there'll be a huge sigh of relief from attendees to see it back on the calendar for the first time since 2019, following the lifting of covid restrictions.
Among the celebrations of prize heifers and parades of Welsh Cobs, there'll undoubtedly be talk of the future of animal welfare in Wales, with agricultural policy at something of a crossroads.
The future of the agricultural industry
Indeed, a new Agriculture (Wales) Bill is set to define the very future of the industry; which is all the more significant given the emergence of new Trade Deals potentially placing unprecedented pressure on domestic production.
At RSPCA Cymru, over the last couple of years, we've championed how a future Agriculture (Wales) Bill could provide the biggest opportunity for farm animal welfare in the history of devolution. At this year's show, we hope the Welsh Government continues to outline how it will seize this opportunity and incentivise farmers to deliver the highest welfare standards.
Interventions for farm animal welfare always have a seismic impact - one change can improve the lives of millions of farm animals at a stroke, while the reverse is also sadly true. There are tens of millions of farm animals in Wales - so a policy change offers tens of millions of opportunities to ensure an animal has a better quality of life.
There have already been some positive suggestions of what the Bill could include - such as new, more accessible national minimum standards. However, for us here at the RSPCA, this Bill was never about the baseline but about Wales striving to be the very best.
So it was really positive this month to read the Welsh Government's new outline proposals for a Sustainable Farming Scheme, which will be established by that much-anticipated Agriculture (Wales) Bill.
What the Government has to say
As the countdown to the Royal Welsh continues, the Welsh Government - in publishing these proposals - has now said that:
- "Welsh farms have high welfare standards, and (the Government) want to build on this by helping farmers make sure animals have a good quality of life";
- to achieve this they'll "recognise and reward high animal welfare standards which take into account the animal's physical welfare as well as their wellbeing";
- such incentives will hinge on animals having "opportunities for positive experiences which allow them to have a 'good life' rather than simply removing factors that have a negative impact on them or meeting animals' basic needs as set out in legislation and welfare codes of practice".
It's all so positive to read - and we also completely agree with plans that farmers should be supported to use a higher welfare standard.
Success for campaigners as Government listens
While plans for incentivising improved biodiversity and disease prevention were already known, and remain very welcome - this is the strongest indication that Wales is on the verge of directly paying farmers for taking proactive steps to deliver a better quality of life for their livestock. A potentially huge step in meeting recognised higher welfare standards - that's huge news.
The devil will, of course, be in the detail - but we're so thrilled that the Welsh Government has listened to our calls and are ready to take one of the biggest moves in the history of farm animal welfare.
What do higher welfare conditions mean?
So, what should these higher welfare conditions - rewarded by the government - look like? Labels like RSPCA Assured are already focused on welfare, with standards based on the latest research as well as practical on-farm experience.
Assessors work to ensure these standards are maintained on farms, from birth and hatching, through rearing, during transport and at slaughterhouses. We now hope the Welsh Government will use our RSPCA welfare standards when assessing the success of farms in achieving and promoting higher welfare.
Post-Brexit Trade Deals bring urgency
The timing of this could not be more important. As the UK continues to pen new post-Brexit Trade Deals, there's a real risk that unrestricted imports of cheaper, lower-welfare produce from abroad could undermine domestic production, and leave farmers forced to cut costs or sacrifice welfare to compete with cheaper imports.
This can't be allowed to happen, and providing farmers with incentives to enhance standards offers a great safety net.
Higher welfare rearing is not only the right thing to do - but it also offers huge promotional value for Welsh produce, and through robust labelling can give consumers the information they want about the origin of their food.
66% consider animal welfare standards when it comes to food
Our new Animal Kindness Index tells us that 66% of people consider animal welfare standards in their dietary choices - reminding us of the value of the 'animal pound' and the public's appetite for higher welfare produce.
As tens of thousands head to Builth Wells next week for the return of the Royal Welsh Show, this latest announcement from the Welsh Government is a great start in ensuring - in the post-Brexit era - Wales becomes ever more synonymous with higher welfare.
Attending the Royal Welsh Show?
The Royal Welsh Show returns amid scorching temperatures across Wales. Stay in the know by reading our expert advice on keeping farm animals safe in hot weather.
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