RSPCA Cymru has urged the Welsh Government to ensure any post-Brexit agricultural support scheme incentivises higher welfare standards on Wales’ farms.
The call comes as the animal welfare charity responds to the Welsh Government’s latest consultation on the future of farm support after the conclusion of the Implementation Period; the eleventh month period following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union where EU rules have largely continued to apply.
After 31 December, subsidy payments will no longer follow EU rules, and the Welsh Government can implement its own scheme to financially support the agricultural industry.
RSPCA Cymru has described the opportunity now facing the Welsh Government as the “biggest opportunity to improve animal welfare in Wales since the onset of devolution”.
In Wales, there are 9,500,000 sheep, over 160,000 beef breeding herds, more than 250,000 dairy breeding herds and approximately 24,000 pigs – highlighting the “seismic” number of animals which a new pro-welfare scheme could help. Poultry stock in Wales also stands at over 7.7 million birds.
Polling for RSPCA Cymru has previously found that 80 percent of adults say that animal welfare standards are important in their purchasing decisions. Meanwhile, Eurobarometer surveys show that 62 percent of the British public do not feel animal welfare receives adequate importance in UK food policy.
The Welsh Government has published plans to support farmers into the New Year, before the introduction of a new Agriculture (Wales) Bill in the next Senedd term.
RSPCA Cymru wants to see decision-makers in Wales begin the transition as soon as possible to a new scheme which recognises and rewards farmers for delivering higher welfare standards throughout the lives of agricultural animals.
The charity believes incentivising farmers who are members of a formally-recognised higher welfare farm assurance scheme will secure improved welfare standards above current standard industry practice, and promote continuous improvements to welfare. There is also support for one-off capital payments to get farms equipped to become eligible to join higher welfare assurance schemes.
David Bowles, head of public affairs for the RSPCA, said: “As the Implementation Period comes to an end on 31 December, Wales is at a crossroads on farm animal welfare.
“Ministers face the biggest opportunity to improve animal welfare in Wales since the onset of devolution – and we hope the upcoming interim period, and the new Agriculture Bill in the next Senedd term, will be used as an opportunity to improve the welfare of millions of farm animals.
“We urge the Welsh Government to incentivise farmers who are delivering higher welfare standards – recognising those who are members of higher welfare farm assurance schemes is a great way to do that. Such schemes give Ministers added security about compliance and that welfare outcomes will be used to drive positive change.
“There is a great opportunity upon us for Wales’ food brand to become globally synonymous with higher welfare. We hope next year and then the Agriculture Bill which follows in the next Senedd term will lead to positive change for a seismic number of farm animals reared in Wales.”
More information on the RSPCA’s work to improve farm animal welfare can be found online.