Eustice sets out details of animal health and welfare pathways

Defra Secretary George Eustice has unveiled more details of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, including fully-funded annual vet visits and grants to improve conditions for livestock.

He set out plans for the programme of financial support for farmers in the pig, cattle, sheep and poultry sectors, based around key animal health and welfare priorities. For the pig sector these include controlling endemic pig diseases, such as PRRS.

Animal Health and Welfare Grants will be launched within the next year to fund investments such as equipment and technology or larger projects.

As part of the Pathway, the Government will offer cattle, sheep and pig farmers an annual visit from a vet of their choice to carry out diagnostic testing, review biosecurity and responsible use of medicines, and provide advice relating to the health and welfare of their animals. These visits will launch later this year and the offer will be further extended over time to other types of livestock farmers.

However, initially at least, these visits will only be eligible for Basic Payment Scheme claimants for administrative purposes, meaning many pig farmers will be unable to access them.

Defra will pay for 2-3 hours of farmer and vet time to:

  • look at the health and welfare of their animals, including biosecurity and responsible use of medicines;
  • receive a report from the vet, which will include some achievable actions the farmer can take to improve health and welfare – this will not be shared with the Government, and is between the farmer and vet;
  • advice on action to take resulting from testing; and signposting to other support, including future grants and disease control schemes.

Each Review will be bespoke, with the farmer and deciding how to prioritise their time. It will also involve testing for PRRS in pigs, BVD in cattle and drench in sheep.

It will be a cash payment and farmers will be responsible for agreeing a rate with their vet – Defra does not expect to see their invoice from the vet or similar. The payments rate for pigs will be £684 (and £436 for sheep, £522 for beef and £372 for dairy).

The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway will also include a disease eradication and control programme. This will allow farmers to apply for financial support to enable them to take measures to prevent and reduce endemic diseases affecting livestock such as veterinary advice, vaccination, or improvements to on-farm management.

Defra said it plans to trial a payment by results programme, which would mean rewarding farmers who can demonstrate high animal health and welfare outcomes, such as those such as those who provide their animals ample space and enrichment so they can better express their natural behaviours.

Profitability and health outcomes

Mr Eustice said: “The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway is for those farmers who are in pursuit of higher profitability through better health outcomes, and it starts with an annual vet visit.

“Farmers will be able to have a vet of their choice, the family vet that they trust, and the government will pay. That vet will be able to help the farmer put together a plan for improved animal health and improved profitability on their livestock holding.”

UK Chief Vet, Christine Middlemiss said: “I hope to see wide-scale adoption of the Annual Health and Welfare Review as part of normal business practice, more farmers taking action to improve health and welfare, and improved outcomes when it comes to endemic diseases and conditions – which will improve animal health welfare and reduce waste, antibiotic use and financial losses”.

Further information on how livestock farmers can apply for the first step of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, the Annual Health and Welfare Review, will be shared in the Spring.

Farmers will have the opportunity to influence the items that are included within the Animal Health and Welfare grants equipment and technology list.  Further information on how to take part will be disseminated through representative industry organisations.

About the Pathway

The Pathway consists of three ‘mutually reinforcing; strands which will:

  1. support livestock farmers financially by using public funds to pay for health and welfare enhancements that are valued by the public and not currently delivered sufficiently by the market or through existing regulatory standards.
  2. stimulate market demand for higher welfare products by making it easier for consumers to purchase food that aligns with their values, improving transparency, and providing the industry with a level playing field to promote such products. Defra said it was looking at potential market interventions – such as labelling (recent call for evidence) and mandatory public disclosure – that could improve the accessibility, availability, and affordability of higher welfare products for consumers, while driving positive procurement choices by retailers.
  3. strengthen the regulatory baseline over time, making sure we maintain our current high standards and continue to raise them where necessary, with details subject to consultation with all relevant sectors.

Health and welfare priorities for pigs:

  • improve biosecurity to control endemic pig diseases and help prevent the introduction of exotic disease threats
  • tackle Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus which costs the industry an estimated £52 million per annum and increases antibiotic use
  • reduce sow confinement during farrowing: by supporting producers in shifting to less confined alternatives for the sow, whilst ensuring the welfare of her piglets. We are also exploring potential reforms around the use of farrowing crates, which can restrict sows’ normal behaviours such as nesting
  • reduce stressors to keep tails intact: we want to support farmers in addressing the underlying causes of high stress levels in pigs which trigger tail biting, such as poor environmental enrichment, so that farmers feel confident to not dock tails

The pathway’s first strand (financially rewarding farmers who deliver public goods) involves four funding programmes. These all work together to deliver our health and welfare priorities, providing funding for high-quality veterinary advice, capital investment and ongoing costs.

  • Annual Health and Welfare Review This will be the first funding programme of the Pathway to launch. It will offer farmers a funded, annual visit from a vet to carry out diagnostic testing, advise on responsible medicine use, and provide bespoke advice on actions and support available to improve the health, welfare and biosecurity of their animals.
  • Animal Health and Welfare Grants These will fund upfront investments in equipment, technology and infrastructure to support health and welfare improvements and enable farmers to provide a higher level of health and welfare, over the statutory baseline.
  • Disease Eradication and Control Programmes Building on the advice given in the Annual Health and Welfare Review, this will offer financial support to prevent and reduce endemic diseases and conditions, with initial focus on the priorities. The programmes may involve diagnostic testing, veterinary advice, vaccination, improvements to on-farm management or active management planning.
  • Payment-by-Results This is an innovative approach to incentivising farmers to improve the health and welfare of their livestock. It could reward farmers who demonstrate high health and welfare outcomes by contributing to the ongoing costs associated with implementing higher health and welfare practices.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.