Global awareness

For too long British farmers have banged the drum about having the highest welfare in the world – but without actually looking over the hedge at the competition.

The RSPCA’s investigation into welfare standards is not perfect ­– and in the past, the organisation has had a bittersweet relationship with farming – but it is an important step towards understanding how our welfare standards appear to the public and abroad. In the coming years, the standards to which we produce our food will be one of our strongest tools in defending our markets from cheap foreign imports.

The report gets some points right, such as the UK’s high welfare standards in pig and poultry sheds. It fails to highlight, however, the benefits of British farming – smaller flocks and herds makes it easier to spot and act on health and welfare concerns. The charity fails to reflect feelings in New Zealand that some dairy cows may benefit from being housed during the worst of winter.

It is important that the report does not signal a race for more rules for UK farmers, but its recommendations must help sharpen our welfare standards to ensure they are effective and can be used to defend and promote our industry. The standard to which we farm must be decided by the farmers themselves with democratic input. Everyone wont agree, so votes may be necessary.

No one should be under any allusion that this is an easy task, but it cannot be put into the 'too difficult' box. We must engage with bodies like RSPCA to ensure they reflect practice in our livestock sector fairly. For instance, criticism of increased sheep lameness in the UK perhaps reflects the harsh realities of the huge extensive systems running in New Zealand where sheep that go off their feet never get near hand a human to be recorded.

The crux of the matter is trade, though. We don’t want products produced to a lower standard than ours entering the UK. But we must remember, New Zealand has been in our market for 140 years, so it is highly unlikely we would be able to shut them out, even if there was a knee jerk reaction to change standards.

This has been a warning shot to get to grips with our welfare standards as trade deals with Mexico, Canada and India are next and burying out head in the sand is no longer an option.


It's been a special weekend celebrating the Platinum Jubilee for HM The Queen and rightly so. Whether a Royalist, or a republican, or simply a 'don't care', you have to admire our sovereign's 70 years of dedicated hard work, quite a lot of which included long term associations with breed societies and agricultural organisations.

Also, we must not forget that she has shown no mean talent in breeding cattle, sheep and racehorses and takes great delight in seeing them perform well. And this is no feat by someone else – we can be assured that HM had a say in almost every breeding project in all of her herds and studs.

See pages 40 and 41 for our exclusive pics from those decades but also note that her 'holiday' might mean that your edition of The Scottish farmer is being delivered late!.