The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has urged government to fulfil its promises on maintaining and improving animal health and welfare in its post-Brexit agricultural policy.
Earlier this year the government’s recognition of animal health and welfare as public goods was a victory and welcomed in BVA’s response to Defra’s consultation paper on the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit. However, more detail is needed on the schemes that will see these public goods incentivised. BVA has recommended the use of an animal welfare stewardship programme to financially support animal welfare as a public good, alongside further development of farm assurance schemes and a modernisation of the UK’s disease surveillance networks.
Commenting on the response to the consultation, BVA President John Fishwick said: “The veterinary profession is integral to the agricultural and food sectors, and central to maintaining public trust in the UK’s animal health, welfare standards and food safety both here and abroad. Vets provide preventative healthcare and treatment for livestock, carry out surveillance, promote good biosecurity, maintain high animal health and welfare, undertake research and development, and optimise food productivity and sustainability.
“Brexit provides an opportunity to review our agricultural policy and to deliver new and effective ways to recognise animal health and welfare as public goods, which will benefit producers, consumers and wider society.”
Rewarding those that go above and beyond in animal welfare
BVA has welcomed the government’s proposals to pilot schemes that offer payments to those farmers who deliver welfare outcomes that are higher than the legislative minimum and to introduce schemes that reward new approaches to improve welfare outcomes that are not industry standard.
More detail is needed on how these proposals could be realised and BVA has recommended an animal welfare stewardship programme as a means to incentivise progress in animal health and welfare. The programme would be based on the principles of environmental stewardship schemes, which reward land management practices that benefit the environment. It would compensate for the additional costs of improving animal welfare outcomes, alongside providing incentives to support continuing and long-term investment into these activities.
Any scheme that aims to improve animal welfare requires monitoring, and BVA believes that placing evidence-based animal welfare outcome safeguards at the centre will allow this to be done in a way that facilitates continuous improvement.
Involving the consumer: farm assurance schemes
In its response to the consultation paper, BVA supports the government’s proposal to provide clear information to consumers on ways to support higher health and welfare through their purchasing choices. BVA encourages the uptake of farm assurance schemes to allow citizens to make informed choices about the food products they buy and the impact of these products on animal health and welfare.
Farm assurance schemes have already made important inroads into identifying measurable animal welfare outcomes and this could help provide an infrastructure for the development of animal welfare stewardship programmes. BVA has developed seven principles that aim to guide consumers in their consideration of farm assurance schemes and also to help ensure that animal health and welfare standards are further embedded in schemes as they develop post-Brexit.
Opportunities to modernise disease surveillance
The UK’s withdrawal from EU has implications for biosecurity and disease surveillance in the UK, providing an opportunity to modernise our animal health and disease monitoring networks. BVA welcomes the government’s suggestion for greater collaboration to develop a clear action plan to tackle endemic disease and drive up animal health standards.
The veterinary profession plays a crucial role in monitoring disease and preventing outbreaks. As well as maintaining current scanning surveillance networks, BVA has called for new approaches to data collection, rethinking traditional approaches to funding and better education to increase awareness around the benefits of reporting to the veterinary profession.
BVA President John Fishwick added: “The government has rightly set out a move from direct payments to public money being used for public goods. Animal health and welfare underpin the reputation of UK agricultural produce, so it is essential that these are supported as public goods in agricultural policy post-Brexit in a way that can make a positive and measurable impact on animal health and welfare.
“Vets play a crucial role in UK agriculture, right throughout the animal’s life, then from the farm-gate through to trade certification. Working towards the highest welfare standards and monitoring disease are an essential component of this, so it’s vital that the government use veterinary expertise to best effect in the development and implementation of any new policy and plans.”