Targeting welfare in post-CAP farming subsidies

Specially targeted farm subsidies could improve animal welfare to meet the government’s ambitions for the highest quality food standards post-Brexit, claims the RSPCA.
calendar icon 8 January 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

The animal charity’s proposals include ring-fenced funding for training, infrastructure and enrichment to improve animal welfare, and financial support for farmers when market prices fall and higher welfare products are sold at a loss to the farmer.

Speaking at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on Thursday 4 January, RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, David Bowles, said:

Paying farmers to achieve high animal welfare standards is a no-brainer. Farm subsidies targeted at animal welfare will be good for new trade deals, good for consumers and good for the animals.

If post-Brexit farm support schemes include ring-fenced incentives for farmers to improve animal welfare, the government’s laudable ambitions for the UK to produce the highest quality food will be met. This, coupled with Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s newly announced comprehensive food labelling system which includes, amongst other things, indicators on animal welfare standards, would be the icing on the cake.

Although certain farming sectors such as laying hens are now able to command a premium price for their high welfare products, other sectors are not able to and would need financial help to improve their welfare standards.

The RSPCA identifies three funding areas that would help improve animal welfare while complying with World Trade Organisation rules. The proposals are based on current EU farm subsidy amounts given to improve animal welfare and would be relatively straightforward to fund. Support could include:

  • Capital costs, including higher welfare training and improved housing of herds;
  • Ongoing production costs when market prices for higher welfare products would produce a financial shortfall (‘market failure’);
  • Ongoing costs such as improving enrichment or providing access to pasture or straw.

Three comprehensive European Commission polls over the past 12 years show that UK citizens want improvements in the food chain. These aspirations have translated into substantive buying patterns for certain products.

The RSPCA recommends that animal-welfare-related subsidies should be delivered via the devolved Rural Development Plans (which provide money for projects to improve agriculture, the environment and rural life), as previous and current schemes in the EU show this approach works.

The RSPCA also welcomed Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to a much more comprehensive food labelling system that measures how a farmer or food producer performs against a number of indicators, including animal welfare.

Speaking at the same Oxford conference, Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said that he wanted the UK to develop new approaches to food labelling; not only badging food properly as British, but also “creating a new gold-standard metric for food and farming quality.”

Mr Gove explained that while there were already impressive ways in which farmers can secure recognition for high animal welfare or environmental standards there was still no single, scaled, measure of how a farmer or food producer performs against the wider basket of indicators including soil health, control of pollution, contribution to water quality as well as animal welfare.

As reported by RSPCA Assured Scheme

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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