RSPCA sheepRSPCA Cymru has cautiously welcomed the publication of a Welsh Government White Paper into a new Agriculture (Wales) Bill, urging Ministers to prioritise a new farm payments model which incentivises higher welfare standards on Wales’ farms.

White Paper was published today (16 December) – and outlines planned changes to farming and farm support in Wales following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the upcoming conclusion of the Transition Period at the end of the year.

The Welsh Government had already published its plans to support farmers into the New Year, but the introduction of an Agriculture (Wales) Bill in the next Senedd term is anticipated to set out Wales’ longer-term plans for the farming sector.

It follows three consultations on future farm support plans in Wales, all of which the RSPCA has engaged with and highlighted the opportunities to improve farm animal welfare by incentivising farmers to deliver the higher standards.

The Welsh Government states – in the White Paper – that higher animal health and welfare standards will form a key part of their Sustainable Land Management proposals, and that future support for farmers will be based on the principle of payment for the production of public goods.

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 huge number of animals which a new pro-welfare scheme could help. Poultry stock in Wales also stands at over 7.7 million birds.

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “The publication of today’s White Paper is a landmark moment for agriculture and Wales’ millions of farm animals – as the Welsh Government looks to move towards a model of farm payments which incentivise the production of public goods.

“The RSPCA very much welcomes plans to change the Basic Payment Scheme to a Sustainable Land Management framework, and in particular commitments to deliver animal health and welfare standards beyond the legal baseline; as this could potentially help countless farm animals.

“Whilst improving animal health standards and reducing disease is important, RSPCA Cymru would want to see more schemes available to incentivise improving animal welfare. We look forward to hearing more information from the Welsh Government on how they will seize one of the biggest opportunities to improve animal welfare since the onset of devolution; by incentivising farmers who deliver higher welfare standards.  This will be good for farm animals, producers and farmers – ensuring ‘Brand Wales’ is synonymous with higher welfare.

“Moves to improve adherence with minimum farm welfare standards as part of the new payment scheme are also welcome – as we do not believe farmers should get any public money if they are breaking the law.”

Proposals are also included in the White Paper for the marketing of agricultural standards in Wales – including labelling and farming methods. The RSPCA hopes this could further support consumers in Wales make more informed choices about what they purchase – including the welfare standards animals have been reared to.

RSPCA head of farm animal welfare Dr Marc Cooper added: “Food labelling can play a pivotal role in helping consumers make informed purchasing decisions.

“We know consumers are increasingly interested in understanding how their food has been produced. Mandatory method of production labelling, underpinned by welfare-related criteria, would represent a positive first step towards proving the level of information consumers desire. Such labelling will also support any future incentives and payments schemes for farmers delivering higher welfare standards.

“It’s encouraging that the Welsh Government is looking at powers related to marketing standards in agricultural products, and we hope this opportunity will be fully utilised so people in Wales have good quality, transparent and meaningful information regarding how the animals were treated before ending up on their plate.”

The RSPCA has also welcomed the Welsh Government’s intention – outlined in the White Paper – to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to allow Ministers in Wales to regulate the use of snares.

RSPCA Cymru has attended regular meetings with the Welsh Government to highlight the impact that snares are having on animal welfare in Wales, despite the existence of the Code of Best Practice on the use of snares in fox control.

The Welsh Government has now said that “regular meetings … with snare-user groups have failed to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Code is being adhered to across Wales” – emphasising what RSPCA officers have found on the frontline and in the field.

Since 2017, 75 incidents have been reported to the RSPCA in Wales specifically referencing a snare – including a badger found dead in a snare in Pontgarreg, Ceredigion, and a badger found alive in a snare in the Neath area.

RSPCA head of wildlife Adam Grogan added: “Sadly, despite the introduction of a voluntary Code of Best Practice on the use of snares in fox control, RSPCA officers have continued to deal with incidents where snares are set in breach of both this voluntary Code and the law more generally.

“We have long been opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares or any trap that causes suffering.

“Snares are cruel and indiscriminate in what they catch – with badgers, domestic pets and other animals often put through excruciating pain by getting caught by a snare.

“It’s really positive that the Welsh Government intends to utilise the Agriculture (Wales) Bill to create a power that will allow Ministers in Wales to improve the regulation of snares. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government and Members of the Senedd in the hope of achieving further regulation and, ideally, an outright ban on snares in Wales.”

More information on the RSPCA’s work to improve farm animal welfare can be found online.