More Light Than Heat Needed in Farm Animal Welfare Debate, says Farmer columnist George Dunn, Chief Executive, Tenant Farmers Association

ALONGSIDE the long running desire to wave goodbye to the Common Agricultural Policy, the other main benefit of Brexit that has been articulated consistently by the Government in respect of agricultural policy is the opportunity to improve animal welfare. The full force of this became clear during this month’s Queen’s Speech within which the Government set out its legislative agenda including an action plan for Animal Welfare.

There is no question that UK livestock and poultry farms should be operating to the highest standards of animal welfare, but it is essential that these standards are informed by proper, professional veterinary expertise. The impression given by the announcement of the action plan is that somehow UK farmers are operating without sufficient care for animal welfare. British farmers are wholly cognisant of the animal welfare needs of their animals and seek to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare both when the animals are on farm and when they are transported from their farms. In addition to the sound business reasons for maintaining high standards of animal welfare throughout the life-cycle of animals in the human food chain, farmers do genuinely care deeply about the way in which their animals are treated and handled.

That is not to say that farming is completely immune from rare individuals who display criminal and repugnant disregard for animal welfare. Very sadly there will always be individuals in all walks of life who will have little or no regard for the welfare of animals in their care. Rare as they are, such individuals have no place in our industry and deserve the full force of the law, but also it is not appropriate to tar the whole of the industry with the same brush. Recognising that this is an immensely emotive and divisive issue, it is essential that we have more light and less heat produced to engender a greater joint understanding amongst all those with a genuine interest in this area.

One of the arguments often made for restricting animal transport is that on journeys, they will routinely pass several abattoirs before reaching their eventual destination However, this misunderstands the structure of abattoirs within the UK; each will have limited capacity and limited scope in respect of the animals which can be handled in each facility. More generally, abattoir capacity domestically is under pressure and it may be the case that the closest abattoir available by journey time is in fact overseas rather than within the UK. Before any move to ban live exports is imposed, there should be a full review of abattoir capacity domestically and consideration of where unnecessary rules and regulations are adding costs to the abattoir sector leading to an under-supply of the necessary facilities required for further processing of animals at home.

All within the farming community must be strong advocates of ensuring that farm animals are kept, managed, transported and slaughtered in accordance with high animal welfare standards.