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Post-Brexit support vital for UK pig welfare push

UK pig producers should receive government support if they are expected to adopt higher levels of animal welfare when the country leaves the European Union, industry leaders have said.

Pig sector experts, academics and welfare organizations told members of the House of Lords that livestock farmers cannot afford to increase welfare levels without guaranteed support from government.

If policymakers continue with plans to drive higher welfare standards outside the EU, then the country’s livestock farmers will struggle to compete with cheaper imports or to sustain their businesses, they said.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords’ EU energy and environment sub-committee, which is investigating the potential impact of Brexit on farm-animal welfare, experts said that UK livestock farmers are committed to high-welfare systems.

But they said producers should not be forced to adopt costlier welfare practices without appropriate support.

Two-tier support system

Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor of Compassion in World Farming, said the government should introduce a two-tier subsidy system that awards farmers who adopt higher welfare practices.

“The first tier should be for farmers who are already doing a good job, and the second tier should be for those that go even further, such as getting a pig through to slaughter with an intact tail,” he said.

Producers’ ability to improve welfare standards will depend on the government’s ability to protect UK farmers from imports produced to lower standards, he added.

Georgina Crayford, National Pig Association senior policy advisor, said UK pig producers are already achieving extremely high levels of welfare, with more than 90% of pig farmers covered by high-welfare assurance standards.

Level playing field

Post-Brexit, she said it is vital that the government ensures producers can fairly compete with pig farmers in other countries, rather than chasing cheap food policies.

“UK pig farmers don’t want to lower standards as we leave the EU,” she said. “They want to level welfare up, not down, but they want a level playing field [to sell their pigs].”

Crayford said previous welfare regulations adopted by UK government have been very costly for the country’s pig producers, which has led to British pork becoming less competitive against cheaper imports.

“We have to be cautious about raising welfare levels so high that we end up becoming too expensive for the domestic market and we export more abroad,” she added. “We need sensible regulation.”

Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers Union, agreed that welfare regulation outside the EU has to be carefully considered.

“We have seen our pig industry decimated by higher welfare codes,” she said. “We have to have welfare [policies] underpinned by sound science and we cannot afford to humanize the debate.

“What is right for humans isn’t necessarily what is best or most enjoyed by animals.”

Posted on June 5, 2017

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