NSA gives evidence on high UK welfare standards
10th April 2017
The National Sheep Association (NSA) welcomed the opportunity to give verbal evidence to a House of Lords’ Select Committee on Wednesday (5th April) to discuss the potential impacts leaving the EU could have on farm animal welfare standards in the UK
The committee had expressed concern current standards would not be sustained once the UK left the EU, but NSA disputed this, making the case that this country is leading the way when it comes to welfare standards and approaches that take into consideration the strong views of the British public.
NSA feels the work being done by the Select Committee is of particular importance given separate comments by Food and Farming Minister George Eustice that Brexit should be used as an opportunity to increase welfare legislation. His suggestion is that higher standards could drive worldwide demand for UK farm products, with future farm support payments being linked to altered on-farm practices. Despite this, NSA does not believe a generic drive to up these further will result gaining worldwide market access, or even result in growing domestic demand, as suggested by Food and Farming Minister George Eustice.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “Recent comments from Mr Eustice suggest we are destined for higher welfare standards and even tougher legislation after we leave the EU. But if we look at sheep, there are few concerns over welfare conditions and where we can make gains is in the area of improving health – something that would increase efficiency and welfare at the same time. The UK is already renowned for its high levels of welfare and sound regulatory platform – and NSA has long made the case that improvements to flock health and disease control will work to maintain this reputation, more so than introducing any additional legalisation could. In areas like this, the sheep industry needs help and encouragement, not further red tape.”
Support for flock health planning, and enhancing the involvement of experienced sheep vets, would boost business and environmental sustainability, as well as maintain welfare standards and is part of NSA’s vision for the future of farm support post CAP. It sits alongside calls for capital investment support into farm infrastructure such as fences, handling equipment, measured to improve soil pH and other actions to aid efficiency, sheep health and environmental management.
Mr Stocker continues: “As we exit the EU, if we are serious about raising the health and welfare of sheep there are two key areas to concentrate on. One is a new approach to Government/public support to incentivise health, welfare and efficiency, and the other is ensuring enterprise profitability.
“Individual businesses obviously have a role when it comes to enterprise profitability, to reduce costs and increase efficiency. But the Government and our levy bodies have a massive responsibility to ensure viable trade agreements, market access and product demand post-Brexit. There is absolutely no doubt that if sheep are profitable they are valued more highly, and if they are valued they will be (and can be) invested in.”
NSA feels the link between EU trade access and optimising viability on farm is inextricably linked – and raises it as a major concern because 35% of UK sheep meat production is exported and 96% of this goes to the EU.
Mr Stocker says: “If we crash out of the EU without tariff-free access we could be paying a tariff of 46% on lamb exports into Europe. That’s enough to make trade not work. Talk of new trade with other countries is all very well but for this to be done within two years is unrealistic. We either need a viable export trade or we need to find ways, within World Trade Organisation rules, to protect our own shores from cheaper lamb coming in produced to lower environmental and welfare standards. This further emphasises why we have to be looking at carrots more-so than sticks to get the type of animal welfare outcomes we want.”