UK ANIMAL health, welfare and productivity has slipped off the top spot of the Animal Protection Index and now sits behind that of France, Denmark and Sweden.

A recent webinar hosted by Food and Farming Futures and Edinburgh University concluded that higher UK-wide animal health and welfare standards are needed – and more than 50 experts, vets, scientists and industry influencers acknowledged that this would deliver a clearer and more compelling market position, as well as raise the collective global leadership and influence of the devolved four nations.

To raise UK standards would require 'a collective push' across all four countries from all bodies that influence assurance, livestock health, welfare and trade, urged the chairman of Food and Farming Futures, Lord Curry of Kirkharle: “Brexit offers the UK a golden opportunity to shape a world-leading aspiration but we have to urgently identify, and address our shortcomings, in this endeavour otherwise we remain vulnerable to challenge.”

Although the UK does reasonably well in the Animal Protection Index, it falls behind Denmark, France and Sweden on Sentience Law. Historically, the UK has led measures to improve animal welfare such as banning sow stalls (1999) and poultry battery cages (2012). Animal welfare is not clearly stated as a non-tariff barrier to trade, but the envelope has been pushed by the EU which requires statements on slaughter in exports and has banned some food production or processing methods on moral grounds.

Each of the four nations is successfully addressing some endemic diseases, but to recover its top status the UK has been urged to ensure surveillance systems are robust in keeping out exotic diseases and to collectively address disease challenges and welfare improvements to be globally competitive – and raise productivity.

The UK needs to be more proactive, progressive and adaptable, said Edinburgh University’s Prof Geoff Simm: “It’s important for the science, vet and farming communities across all four nations to come together on this – and devise action plans that can raise UK-wide standards of endemic disease control.”