Government seeks to rebuild UK's reputation for livestock excellence

UK - It is deeply unpleasant for pig producers to be told the world has a "negative view" of the British livestock industry.
calendar icon 7 March 2003
clock icon 9 minute read
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NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & White-hall, and with pro-cessors, supermarkets & caterers – fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

But these were the words Lord Whitty used when he met a group of producers recently - and no one argued with his candid assessment.

If BSE and foot and mouth continue (however unfairly) to taint British livestock producers' reputation for excellence, then as an industry we have to do something about it.

Government agrees. "It is clear we need to put in please measures to restore the confidence of the wider public and consumers; to actively promote them; and to restore our animal health status within the international community," say Defra.

They have asked pig producers to help draw up an animal health and welfare strategy which would include a ten-year plan and cover everything from how to shape and lead future EU health and welfare regulations, to the restoration of Britain's international reputation on animal health issues.

"It's a rare opportunity to put your wishes on the table… an opportunity that's not going to come up again for a long while," said Diana Linskey, at Defra.

NPA has welcomed the opportunity to be involved and will be working with Pig Veterinary Society and BPEX to draw up a wish list. It urges all pig producers to get involved in the gestation process.

Defra's consultation document can be downloaded here (right click and choose Save Target As) and any views and comments can be emailed to NPA policy manager Ann Petersson at or regional manager Ian Campbell at

Deadline for comments is April 3, but it would be useful if any ideas to be thrown into the NPA pot could be received before the end of March.

A successful strategy could be a godsend for the pig industry as it would have the potential to…

  • Enhance the reputation internationally of Britain's world-beating genetics and high-welfare pigmeat.

  • Prevent new absurdities creeping into future EU animal health and welfare regulations.

  • Boost the reputation of pork and pork products with consumers at home and abroad, as safe, healthy, ethically-produced food.

It is not intended that the health and welfare strategy will be something that government determines and polices by itself, but rather it will be a joint approach by the industry and various parts of government. Producers and vets will be expected to take responsibility for particular parts of the strategy.

Inevitably producers will ask (anxiously) whether there is a cost involved, to which the answer will almost certainly be "yes", but equally there may be some funding available, although no one knows how much.

An optimist might say that were the industry and government to work together effectively to shape future EU legislation, then future savings from warding off inappropriate legislation, could outweigh the costs.

It is an ambitious project which will embrace, for instance, shellfish as well as sows, so the pig industry will need to contribute robustly to ensure its voice is heard above the general clamour of sector interests and welfare pressure groups.

The first question to be asked is why animal health and welfare matters? Defra offer the following answers…
  • The impact animals can have on human health. There are diseases which we can contract directly from animals (zoonoses), and also pathogens we can pick up from eating animal products or handling animals.

  • Economic effects. Animal diseases affect production which in turn affects the viability and sustainability of livestock farming. There can also be serious effects on the export trade, on rural communities, on the environment, and an increased burden on the taxpayer. As we have recently seen, these economic effects can be extreme. Most animal diseases will be for the livestock keeper to manage but some, either fast moving highly contagious disease or those which cause major economic problems far beyond the individual holding, have led to Government intervention in the past.

  • The responsibilities which we assume when we become a keeper of animals either commercially, as companions or for sport. The economic and other rewards which come from animal ownership bring with them obligations not merely to avoid cruelty but also actively to ensure the well-being of every animal in their care.

  • International obligations placed on government - usually themselves linked to one or other of the above effects.
"We hope," say Defra, "that the strategy will set out an understanding of where we want the livestock production/animal keeping relationship to go and provide a framework within which the above relationships can be understood and developed.

"The process will require all those involved in the keeping, handling and trading of animals to reach an understanding of where they want to be and how they want to get there. The main players in the proposed strategy are animal keepers, veterinarians, others in the livestock production chain, consumers, rural and environmental interests, and the government."

A draft vision for the future might propose that in ten years time we will have achieved the following…

Consistently high standards of animal health and welfare

  • Healthy and protected animals - on the farm, in the wild and in the home.
  • Animal welfare practices enhanced and promoted.
  • "Disease free" status against highly infectious diseases and the restoration of the UK's international animal health position.
  • Adaptability and understanding of the changing environment and the threats this can impose on animal health and welfare.
  • Animal owners and Government to each take an appropriate level of responsibility for animal health.
  • The right balance between the partners in animal health and welfare as to how the costs are met.
  • An active role in shaping and leading EU and International agendas on animal health and welfare.
  • Responsible use of veterinary medicines.

Improved public health

  • Reduced carriage of food borne pathogens by food producing animals.
  • No major food scares from animal products or any other animal related public health surprises.
  • Public confidence in the way their food is produced.

A better informed and more effective livestock industry which is...

  • Highly skilled.
  • Efficient, sustainable and profitable.
  • Applying best practice in disease prevention (biosecurity), whether through assurance and health schemes or in other ways.
  • Aware of its role in producing safe food.
  • Working closely with private veterinary practices.
  • Set in the context of a thriving countryside and rural economy.
  • Aware and appreciative of the widest impacts of animal health and welfare on society and our natural resources, biodiversity, environment etc.

The capacity to deal swiftly and effectively with any disease emergency

  • Improved and transparent handling of animal disease outbreaks.
  • A reduced level of international threat to animal health and more effective and a greater awareness of import controls.

A policy framework which allows...

  • Government intervention that is clear and justified.
  • Regulation kept to the minimum necessary and appropriately enforced.
  • Clear strategies to be agreed with Stakeholders for major diseases.

Professional veterinary services which are...

  • Skilled to support animal health and welfare best practice.
  • Used by livestock keepers to promote health as well as respond to disease or welfare problems.
  • Joined-up working between the State Veterinary Service, the VLA, the Meat Hygiene Service and Private Veterinary practices.

Use of science to ensure

  • Policy which is evidence based and scientifically informed.
  • Research is targeted on priority areas.
  • Veterinary surveillance is targeted on priority areas.
  • An Active horizon scanning programme.
Defra have offered the following ideas to help improve animal health and welfare...
  • Understanding of the cost of animal disease and welfare problems and communicating the benefits to business of improving animal husbandry.
  • Improved levels of skill and knowledge (within livestock industry, the Veterinary profession and Government).
  • Review of education and training for both farmers and veterinary surgeons.
  • Changing the role of veterinary surgeons from fire fighting to prevention (building partnerships with farmers).
  • Better communication between all involved in the partnership approach - sharing of best practice and new advice.
  • The contribution of research, science and surveillance.
  • The interface between agriculture and health.
  • The role of farm assurance schemes.
  • The uptake and role of Herd and Flock health plans which are fully integrated into overall farm business planning.
  • A "state of alert" system for Great Britain.
  • Reaching farming business outside of assurance schemes.
  • Best use of available information (e.g. post slaughter data).
NPA chairman Richard Longthorp has welcomed the consultation exercise . "We've built a good working relationship with Defra and this gives us a further opportunity to consolidate that relationship and to demonstrate we are a proactive industry, rather than one that just whinges," he said.

In their consultation, Defra have included some questions for producers to consider...
  • Do you agree that we need a more strategic approach to animal health and welfare in Great Britain? If so what do you think a strategy should cover? Do you have any other views on the reasons for a strategy?
  • Is the draft vision a desirable future for animal health and welfare in Britain? What is your vision?
  • What economic, social, environmental and welfare benefits are you looking for from the strategy? What costs need to be taken into account? And how should these be balanced?
  • Can you identify any potential conflicts or risks that might challenge the draft vision?
  • How can we build the new contract and make partnerships with stakeholders work?
  • What is your most important long-term animal health and welfare priority?
  • Do you think "animal health plans" should be expected from all animal keepers?
  • A commitment was made in the FMD Inquiry response to seek views on the regular reviewing and issuing of progress reports on the state of emergency preparedness: what do you think would be the most appropriate format for these? How often do you think government should issue them?
Source: National Pig Association - 6th March 2003
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