Tag Archives: agriculture

Making Brexit work for animal welfare

Lord Trees spoke on 17 October in the House of Lords in a debate on the EU subcommittee reports on Brexit: agriculture and Brexit: farm animal welfare with Defra Minister Lord Gardiner.

AJT Brexit animal welfare debate

He took the opportunity to ask the Minister for further clarity on the rights of non-UK EU vets to continue to work in the UK post Brexit, he emphasised the role of vets in underpinning trade, sought assurances that animal welfare standards would not slip as a consequence of setting up new trading relationships and also spoke on the need to transpose medicines regulations into UK law to ensure that current and future medicines required for animal health are available. More generally he also asked the Minister if the Government have considered how financial inducements might be used to help to maintain animal welfare standards (e.g. during reform of farming subsidy payments) and to ensure that the EU Withdrawal Bill includes General Principles of EU law such as the Lisbon Treaty (Article 13) which requires the sentience of animals to be recognised in making and interpreting current and future laws.

Defra Minister, Lord Gardiner’s reply stated:

Lord Gardiner

“In government we absolutely recognise the key role played by vets in ensuring high animal welfare and health standards. Indeed, the Prime Minister specifically made it clear that securing the status of the veterinary workforce is a top priority. It has been my privilege to meet many EU nationals who serve in our veterinary profession and I can say how important they are to us.”

He mentioned welfare standards several times, re-iterating the Government’s position that the UK’s current standards of animal welfare will be maintained post Brexit. He also stated that the Government plans “to replicate broadly the EU’s current schedule of WTO commitments” in its future trade agreements allowing tariffs to be maintained at current level but acknowledging that decreases in tariffs can adversely impact farmers, consumers and the food industry.

In response to concerns about the negative impact of cuts in Defra funding and reduction in the Defra workforce he stated that Defra have recruited 450 additional staff, comprising policy generalists and specialists to support their comprehensive exit programme. More than 350 have already taken up posts, with the remainder currently progressing through the pre-appointment processes.

He confirmed The Secretary of State (Michael Gove’s) recent announcement that the Government intends to publish draft legislation for consultation “around the turn of the year” to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years in prison.

He also referred to the Government’s manifesto commitment to “take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter” as we leave the EU as well as to require CCTV in every slaughterhouse in England.

A full transcript of the debate is available here.

Lord Trees visits Hampshire farms with EU committee

Last week Lord Trees visited Kingsclere Estate, Manydown Farm, and Vitacress Salads Ltd  alongside other members of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. 

For the last two years Lord Trees has been a committee member of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee that meets weekly to scrutinize legislative proposals from the EU commission. Fluctuations in the market prices for agricultural products (price volatility) poses a major threat to the financial security of farmers and to the sustainability of food supply in the EU. In response, the committee is currently working on an inquiry into creating a more resilient agricultural sector. The final report from the inquiry is due to be published in early May 2016.

The chairman of the committee,  Baroness Scott of Needham Market, said:

“Our visit to the Hampshire really brought our current inquiry to life. It was an honour to hear from farmers who have had to weather the storm of price volatility in recent months and years. What was clear from our conversations was that price volatility is here to stay and that the true potential of much of UK agriculture depends on farmers’ ability to innovate and diversify. We were impressed with the vision and the confidence of the people we met and we were grateful for the time that they took to share their thoughts with us as we begin to prepare our final report.”

Left: Lord Trees (centre) with Baroness Scott of Needham Market, the chairman of the Sub-Committee (second left) discussing soil structure at Kingsclere Estate.
Right: Lord Trees observing salad processing at Vitacress Salads Ltd.

Healthy, Wealthy Rural Communities

The Rural Economy Research Group (RERG) met for the fifth time in the House of Lords on the 28th October 2015. The annual meeting was attended by a broad range of peers, ministers, scientists, academics and vets and featured fascinating presentations on the future of rural businesses, the challenges facing the UK water industry and the importance of rural landscapes for human health. The meeting was kindly sponsored by the Royal Agricultural University, the University of Liverpool and the University of Nottingham and Chaired by Professor the Lord Trees of the Ross.

The theme of the meeting was “Healthy, Wealthy Rural Communities” and this broad title brought together a diverse group of speakers. Professor Paul Wilson (Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Nottingham) started the meeting with an overview of the UK agricultural sector using data from the Farm Business Survey that has been collecting data on farm businesses since 1936. In the UK there are currently 290,000 registered farmers with a total income of £5.4 billion. He discussed how the future might look for farmers if subsidies were removed and showed the variability in levels of reliance on subsidies across farming sectors from high reliance in cereal farmers and lowland grazing through to lower reliance in the pig and poultry sectors. He ended the talk by looking at the future of the dairy industry and asked the question “Will dairy farmers ever be happy again?”. The short answer is that some will and some won’t. There is huge variation in the profitability of dairy businesses with the top 10% making a profit of £80 per cow and the bottom 20% loosing £50 per cow. It was interesting to note that the top 10 most profitable dairy producers use relatively fewer concentrates and have lower yield per cow than some less profitable farms emphasising the importance of good farm practices to reduce cost per litre of milk and ensure that dairy businesses remain profitable.

The second talk came from Dr Robert Ward, Director of Science at the British Geological Survey. He started by describing how the resilience of water supply varies across the UK with South East England most at risk from drought. He explained how public water supplies are resilient to short-term droughts but private supplies are much more vulnerable. There are 100,000 private water supplies to rural communities suggesting that these communities are particularly at risk from the effects of drought. He described how the last 4 years have seen unprecedented fluctuations in water levels with both historical lows in 2012 and highs in 2014 and with climate models predicting drier summers and wetter winters the future challenges to the water industry remain uncertain. He ended his talk by discussing the problem of nitrate pollution in water supplies and the 3D modelling work that is being carried out to minimise the risk of aquifer pollution as a consequence of shale gas and oil extraction.

The final talk came from Dr Rebecca Lovell and Dr Ben Wheeler from the University of Exeter who discussed evidence for the positive effects of the natural environment on human health. In general those living in rural areas are reported to have better health and longer life expectancy and there is increasing recognition of the value of greenspaces in reducing stress and stimulating physical activity. Coastal areas of the UK receive 1.4 billion visits per year for the purposes of walking dogs alone and it has been estimated that these visits bring £19 billion to these areas. The value of rural landscapes extends far beyond agricultural income and the growing appreciation of the role of these landscapes for public services to human health and the environment is likely to play an increasing role in decision-making of farmers, land manager and policy makers.

Discussion of the future of Rural Economies over dinner in the Attlee Room at the house of Lords
Discussion of the future of rural economies over dinner in the Attlee Room at the House of Lords

The meeting ended with a dinner in the Attlee Room at the House of Lords and a lively and thought-provoking discussion of many of the points raised. It was clear to see how the future of rural economies is important not just for farmers but for all of us and inspiring to see such a broad range of people brought together to discuss the challenges that we face.  By working together we can help to ensure that rural economies remain sustainable and safeguard the natural environment that is essential to our future health and well-being.

Weds 2nd April 2014

Foundation for Science and Technology

Policy choices for the reduction of bovine tuberculosis

Last week, the Foundation for Science and Technology met at the Royal Society to discuss bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in the UK and what policy choices might be available to the Government. Bovine TB strategy in the UK hinges primarily on cattle controls, but it is generally agreed that there is a need to address the sylvatic reservoir of disease in badgers. Unfortunately, the Report of the Independent Expert Panel on Pilot Badger Culls (IEP Report) was due to be released by the time the meeting was convened, but it was not released until two days later (04/04/14).

The speakers were as follows:

  • Adam Quinney: Farmer and former Vice-President, NFU
  • Professor Rosie Woodroffe: Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London
  • Dr Miles Parker OBE FSB: Senior Research Associate, Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

We were also due to hear from Professor Ian Boyd, Government Chief Scientific Adviser at DEFRA, but due to the impending release of the IEP Report he was unable to attend.

Mr Quinney summarised the history of bTB controls in the UK and highlighted the distrust between the farming community and DEFRA. Professor Woodroffe gave a talk to explain how infections spread, what factors affect the reproductive rate of an infection and her thoughts on vaccination as a strategy for badgers. Dr Parker came third with a talk about trends in the incidence and prevalence of bTB since the FMD outbreak in 2001/02. He outlined methods for managing bTB and re-iterated the point that vaccination alone is not wholly effective; a comprehensive strategy is necessary.

In summary it was agreed that whilst there is much polarisation over some aspects of bTB control, there is widespread consensus on others. It is important to build a strategy upon those latter aspects. It would also be great to hear a projection for cattle vaccine introduction that isn’t perpetually ‘about 10 years away’.

Foundation for Science and Technology