Cash plea to support animal welfare

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GOVERNMENTS could and should spend some farm support money on subsidising better animal welfare, government advisers have said.

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee, the Defra advisory body left over from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, says both the European Union and the World Trade Organisation have rules which would allow some intervention in the food market in the interests of animals. The FAWC says there is no reason farmers should not be rewarded for hitting animal welfare targets in the same way as they are for delivering ‘public goods’ through a healthier environment, and the committee is surprised it has hardly been tried. It also appeared to be possible – although successive governments have failed to do it – to impose UK welfare standards which applied to all imports too.

The report sums up: “Government has a crucial role to play in maintaining a standard of animal welfare that is acceptable. The quality of life cannot be left to the ‘free market’ because economic interests are powerful and vested interests manyfold.”

The FAWC report, Economics & Farm Animal Welfare, was delivered just before Christmas and has not yet had a formal response from Defra.

But it has been picked up by the farming and veterinary press and blogosphere and the government’s new Animal Health & Welfare Board is expected to consider it in the course of a wide-ranging review of policy.

One member of the committee is North Lincolnshire pig farmer Meryl Ward.

She said this week that UK rules on sow welfare, imposed ahead of most of the rest of Europe, and the laying hens rules which have been so widely ignored, were very much in mind when the committee was discussing the issue.

She said there was little sign that the idea of welfare subsidies was on the agenda in the current discussions on Common Agriculture Policy reform. The FAWC was aiming more long-term.

She said: “FAWC reports are widely read and they have an impact on the way different organisations think and react until a head of steam builds up.

“I think that is the best we can hope for in this case.”

She pointed out that there were small examples of the idea in action in the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme, announced last November – a £20m pot to be dispensed in small grants for farming initiatives with some sort of ‘green’ spin-off.

It included, she said, provision for 40 per cent grants for investments of up to £50,000 in loose farrowing systems – carefully designed alternatives to keeping a sow confined during and after birthing, so she does not squash her own piglets.

The FAWC report can be found at