Why animal welfare policy must be carefully thought out

Much of the month has been taken up by two weighty Defra consultations, both of which have the potential to severely affect producers, so warrant close attention.

The first was the draft Pig Welfare Code. We’ve had plenty of dialogue with the Defra welfare policy team over the years and, while I understand the pressure they are under from ministers, especially recently, to show that they are pushing boundaries, they also understand that we simply can’t make changes to welfare policy that, while well intentioned, will potentially cause poorer welfare (we had this before with water for piglets over two weeks of age).

Such policy shifts might make welfare lobby groups happy in the short-term, but all they’ll do is force more UK pig businesses out of the industry so more pork will be imported. While the environmentalists may see this as a positive outcome, I doubt the welfarists will.

Defra weren’t sure what to make of the new ‘balcony system’ when I showed them the pictures and seemed surprised when I said that welfare credentials have increased in some countries where they are installed. I think we have more work to do to convince them…

The chatter about method of production labelling is increasing, too. What really irks me is the common assumption that outdoors must equal good, while indoors equals bad and this is exactly what method of production labelling would signal, intentionally or otherwise. We’ve talked to retailers about how this should be more welfare outcome focused, but try as I might, I can’t think of a labelling system based on welfare outcomes that won’t lead back to system!

If anyone has any bright ideas please share, as we know retailers and politicians are already looking at it and I’d love to be able to give them a sensible alternative – preferably nothing to do with labels!

I think we should better explain the existing labels we have, but the rhetoric is out there now that the customer wants to know more, even if that isn’t true (which I suspect) it matters not – so we must have a solution.

Defra’s second consultation is on its majestically named ‘Command Paper’, scoping out their view of future domestic agriculture policy. Although much of it is about direct payments and beautifying landscapes, we will focus on the things that matter to pig producers and let others worry about capping, trees and rural broadband. We’ll be looking to producers to feed in to this and, as the deadline for responses is the May 8, there is time.

Finally, I was gutted by the EPR permit charges. Yes, we got the EA to agree not to charge the full whack for variations under the permit review, but charges for new or variations to existing permits are way over the top, so we’ll be working hard to ensure they deliver a much improved service and continue to work on efficiency savings.

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About The Author

Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA. For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk