82 percent of public want farm subsidies for higher welfare

21.03.18

Eight out of ten people agree that farm subsidies post-Brexit should be used to improve animal welfare, our report reveals.

Our new report (PDF 1.72MB) sets out how the Government can turn its vision for a post-Brexit higher welfare farm payment system into a reality.

An incentive to improve animal welfare

We’ve proposed that the new farm support system, due to come into effect from next year, should be targeted at farmers who want to improve welfare but where there's currently no market incentive for them to do so.

At present, farm animals can legally be kept in barren, overcrowded and restricted spaces which can prevent or severely restrict their ability to carry out natural behaviours such as foraging, rooting or being active. For example:

  • laying hens can be kept in cramped cages with less space than an A4 sheet of paper
  • meat chickens without any natural light
  • a fully-slatted  floor without any bedding is deemed acceptable for pigs
  • and dairy cattle can be housed year round without ever going outside to graze.

We believe the new support system should reward farmers with public money only if they go beyond current standard industry practice on animal welfare.

If the Government took up these proposals we believe the UK would move towards world-leading welfare standards that deliver a genuinely competitive farming industry post-Brexit.

What the scheme sets out to do

Our head of public affairs, David Bowles, said:

This scheme would give farmers the financial leg-up they need towards much higher welfare production.

Our proposals provide the practical details which Governments are seeking to make their vision work. We've set out a highly workable two-tier proposal for farmers to be paid to invest in higher animal welfare standards while ensuring they are not undercut in any new trade deals.

People in the UK care about how their food is produced and our recent survey shows a vast majority of the public (82 percent) want to see subsidies used to improve animal welfare.

Targeted incentives for farmers who need help improving animal welfare would be good for producers, good for consumers and good for animals.

Last month, the Government committed to safeguarding the welfare of livestock after we leave the EU and proposed pilot schemes for farmers to deliver higher welfare outcomes and substantially reduce endemic disease. Our recommendations would help achieve the higher standards of farm animal welfare that the Government wants as the UK leaves the EU.

What's the scheme?

Currently, there's little or no financial support available for farms to lift their levels of animal welfare any higher than the minimum legal standards – and we believe that's not good enough.

The scheme would be a two-tiered system designed to set farmers on a manageable ‘journey’ towards adopting higher farm animal welfare standards:

  • Tier One is a 'transitional payment' tier whereby payments would be awarded to producers for implementing measures, such as to build new, modern housing to meet higher welfare standards, and to implement programmes to improve animal health and welfare, as a first step towards meeting the higher, Tier Two criteria.
  • Tier Two payments would be awarded to producers that are members of a higher welfare farm assurance scheme, such as RSPCA Assured. This would deliver higher standards of welfare covering the whole life of the animal and would be measured through welfare outcome assessments.

Producers would be incentivised to move from Tier One to Tier Two.

How funding could be used to help animal welfare

Our proposals are informed by current EU farm subsidy amounts given to improve animal welfare, and have been developed to meet World Trade Organisation rules. The organisation believes both environmental and animal welfare benefits could be funded from the existing financial ‘envelope’.

The report also suggests how improving the welfare of farm animals in the UK can be tackled at a relatively small cost.

Payments could include:

  • funding for training, infrastructure capital costs and enrichment to improve animal welfare
  • financial support for farmers who are producing higher welfare products at a financial loss to competitors.

We’re proposing that farm subsidy payments should:

  • Result in producers investing in improving the welfare of their animals
  • Be benchmarked to standards and include  welfare outcome assessments to demonstrate higher welfare
  • Be prioritised to those sectors where the market is not delivering improvements in animal welfare
  • Be linked – and complementary to – other public good payments such as those to deliver environmental or landscape benefits
  • Be transparent and easy to access, implement and assess.

David added:

If we get it right now, the UK’s food quality could become the world’s gold standard – and that can only happen with an approach that continuously drives animal welfare.

Our report cites new independent research carried out by agricultural research organisation Agra CEAS Consulting.

Read our report Into the fold: help for farmers (PDF 1.72MB).

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