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https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk/2021/09/09/introducing-the-animal-health-and-welfare-pathway/

Introducing the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

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Copyright Natural England/Paul Glendell

I come from a pig farming background, although my dad was a joiner in a Tyneside shipyard.

I’ve been a member of Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Board for a number of years. We’ve worked on a huge variety of issues: from greyhounds to goats, cats to cows.

However, the most exciting piece of work for me has been the development of a proposition to improve the health and welfare of English farmed animals by controlling and eventually eliminating endemic diseases.

Over the last couple of years, a group of farmers, supported by vets, specialists and Defra colleagues have worked together to design a way to help fellow farmers bolster the health and welfare of their stock, whilst at the same time improving their bottom line. We’re calling it the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.

Right at the outset, it was evident that the farmers’ own vet needed to be at the heart of delivery and veterinary input has been immense in guiding us up the first steps of the Pathway.

The programme is set to start in Spring 2022 with a vet visit. This will be paid for by the government. They will undertake a health and welfare review of the farm, including diagnostic testing, to set the foundations for the journey along the Pathway. The initial focus will be on improving disease prevention and controlling or eradicating an industry agreed list of diseases in each species.

Having completed this first step, farmers will continue along the Pathway supported by Animal Health and Welfare grants which will be launched later in 2022 (more on these in October).

A payment by results programme is also in the planning stages, which will reward farmers for achieving higher welfare outcomes by supporting the ongoing costs involved in delivery.

The ambition is that over time everyone, including your neighbours and small scale producers, will be engaged, thereby reducing the risk of re-infection to those who have forged ahead with the programme. We’ll have to remain flexible as we progress to long term delivery, as lessons are learned and implemented.

Why does this matter?

We know that disease and conditions such as lameness mean that farmers lose money every single day. We know they would like to do something about it, but don’t or can’t because of the risk of reinfection of disease. The difference with this programme is that everyone will be working together towards the same goal.

Who is this for?

This is for all livestock farmers. At the heart of the Pathway is the principle of the farmers’ own vet working with them on an individual farm basis whether you are farm assured or not, and there will be a format that covers the health and welfare needs of your farm.

There are big wins here for the public purse, too. A higher health national flock or herd will have a reduced need for veterinary medicines, reduce the effect on the environment and underpin our international reputation for good health and welfare, bolstering our export opportunities.

We also know that the British public value good welfare, so it makes sense to support farmers in reaching a higher standard.

I don’t underestimate the challenges behind the delivery of this vision, so thank you for reading this and we’ll keep you up to date with progress. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to the Future Farming blog.

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25 comments

  1. Comment by Katharine Pinfold posted on

    I support the underlying principle of this approach and like most farmers we take the health and welfare of our livestock very seriously.

    However don't you think the message of this scheme is rather ironic and risks being undermined by the actions of the government in agreeing trade deals with countries who do not have the same standards or ambitions? We need to be able to sell our products at the right value in our home markets without having to compete with lower cost imports.

    Reply
    • Replies to Katharine Pinfold>

      Comment by Dana Wilson posted on

      Thanks for your support, Katherine, and for taking the time to respond. The UK Government has made a clear commitment that in all trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. Therefore, all agri-food products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements will have to comply with our import requirements. We do appreciate that there is a concern about the impact of tariff liberalisation on UK farmers. Tariff liberalisation by the UK will be phased in over several years – in the case of beef and lamb, over a decade with a further five years of safeguards. This is intended to allow farmers time to adjust to new market conditions and the UK’s replacement to the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The Animal Health and Welfare (AHW) Pathway therefore, will increase standards, without compromising on profits. We hope this helps answer your question and please do get in touch if you would like to know more. The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  2. Comment by Michael Holding posted on

    I agree with the comment from Katharine. Australia isn't famous for its animal welfare standards is it.

    Also, the principle of payment by results seems to have been abandoned in SFI because it's unfair. Pay for verified implementation of animal care standards as agreed in the Pathway. To effectively penalise farmers who are taking all prescribed steps - on top of potential loss of market value for animals - seems really unfair.

    Reply
    • Replies to Michael Holding>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thanks for reading this post, Michael.

      We understand that there is concern over the UK-Australia agreement and what this will mean for our farmers.

      The UK Government has however, agreed a non-regression and non-derogation clause on animal welfare with Australia, This is a first in a free trade agreement and means that both countries are committed to not lowering their animal welfare standards.

      We have also made a clear commitment that in all trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. Therefore, all agri-food products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements will have to comply with our import requirements.

      Defra recognises that payment by results schemes are not appropriate in every circumstance – they are another tool in the policy toolbox – but when done well, they can be very effective. Such schemes allow farmers to innovate and use their own considerable knowledge to achieve their objective, moving away from the standard prescriptive approach. Furthermore, most programmes are exploring a hybrid approach – combining the best of payments by results and regular schemes to deliver the best possible opportunities for farmers. Nevertheless, we recognise farmer’s legitimate concern that they may miss out on payments due to effects from outside their control.

      We agree that this will be important to get right to ensure the fairness of the scheme, and so are exploring the best solutions to avoid it. At present, payment by results schemes are still being considered in animal welfare, and all of our environmental land management schemes, including SFI, with final decisions a matter for our ongoing co-design process.

      We hope this helps answer your questions and please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

      Best wishes,
      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  3. Comment by Lesley Prior posted on

    What about those of us who a) already have regular vet visits and flock health plans, and b) are already members of sheep health schemes? What do we get out of this? As usual, targeting the tail end while those who are already doing the right thing (and paying for it!) get nothing!

    Reply
    • Replies to Lesley Prior>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to our article Lesley.

      We know that the majority of farmers already have animal health plans and good biosecurity measures in place, but there is a clear opportunity to go further. Addressing non-statutory endemic diseases will not only benefit the welfare of the animals and reduce the need to use antibiotics, but can also significantly improve productivity on farm. There can of course be other impacts on animal health across sectors which individual farmers have no control over.

      Partnership working, to provide an overview and co-ordinating function to better address these situations, forms part of our plans. For this reason, the Pathway has been co-designed with industry members across a variety of sectors, who are already passionate about and engaged in improving the health and welfare of their animals, in order to avoid leaving anyone out. The key premise of the Pathway is that it will be flexible enough for all farmers to benefit in some way, taking a tailored approach which will consider what point a farmer is joining the Pathway from. For example, you may already have addressed a particular sheep health issue on your farm, but find it useful to obtain a grant from the Government to work on another issue specific to your needs.

      We hope this helps answer your queries and please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
      • Replies to AHW Pathway Team>

        Comment by John Hyde posted on

        Hi, how will pathway benefit a small farm like mine, I feed my cattle very well and bed up every day and work with my vet if I need them.
        My main problem is I am short of space and would love a new Modern barn, and concrete my yard as it’s just mud , as I am at the bottom of a hill.
        How will funding work , and would a farmer have to put funds in to a project.

        Reply
        • Replies to John Hyde>

          Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

          Thank you for getting in touch John; it is great to hear you are interested in getting involved, as we are really keen for passionate farmers like yourself with smaller holdings to take part too.

          The Pathway is designed to be flexible enough to benefit the full range of farms in England. For example, from the information provided, you may find it most useful to obtain a grant from the government to co-fund the infrastructure improvements you require. A farmer will be required to discuss with their vet the most appropriate investments for their farm to maximise health and welfare benefits for their animals, but this advice can be sought through the interactions you mention already having.

          We will shortly be launching an online suggestions box to give farmers, vets, academics and other industry stakeholders the opportunity to suggest which capital items are included in grants, so do look out for more information on this coming soon.

          Best wishes,
          The AHW Pathway Team

          Reply
          • Replies to AHW Pathway Team>

            Comment by John Hyde posted on

            Thanks for replying to me, I had a guy out here On Friday on behalf of Defra to see what my plans are with my small Farm.
            I do not claim BPS payments, as this was not transferred back to my self from a family member so it was lost but not my fault.
            All my farm is private funds,
            It would be so helpful to get a grant for new infrastructure or equipment, what would help animal health as well as much improvement around the farm.
            I will look forward to any help what, I hope I would be able to have in the future.

  4. Comment by Mark Harrison posted on

    What farms be required to undertake the exercise? Corporate integrated units all the way through to small holders? Will this be bench marked? How will you communicate the results to consumers and the wider stakeholder groups? How does this work fit with the e medicine declaration work going on with vets? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Replies to Mark Harrison>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for showing a keen interest in our work and taking the time to respond Mark.

      Initially, the Pathway will be available to all commercial sheep, cattle or pig farmers who are currently eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) with a minimum of 50 pigs, 20 sheep or 10 cows in total. There will not be an obligation to take part at this stage, but we want to spread the message of the Pathway to all farmers, given what a great opportunity it is to collectively improve the health and welfare of England's livestock. The Pathway is also designed to be flexible enough to benefit the full range of farms involved.

      As part of the Annual Health & Welfare Review, farmers and vets will share their data to better understand the health and welfare of the national herd and flock through benchmarking. That information will be stored securely, and not made available to anyone other than the farmer and their vet in a way that will link responses to their farm. The Review will include discussion around medicine usage on farm and recommendation to upload medicine usage to the relevant central e-medicines hub. We hope this helps answer your queries and please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

      Best wishes,
      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  5. Comment by Hugh Warmington posted on

    To stand any chance of competing with lower cost imports, we need to optimise our own production systems. A key element of that for livestock producers is surely the eradication of endemic diseases. This new Government initiative is designed to do just that. By reducing and eliminating diseases we not only make our enterprises more profitable, but we also improve animal welfare and reduce the carbon cost per kilo of meat.

    Reply
    • Replies to Hugh Warmington>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for your support and taking the time to respond Hugh. We are pleased that you share our vision of controlling endemic diseases in our national herd and flock.

      This is an ambitious undertaking and a coordinated approach between the farming industry and government is the best strategy to achieve our goals, including reducing carbon emissions and improving productivity. Please do keep an eye on the blog - do subscribe if you haven't - for more information about the Pathway coming soon.

      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  6. Comment by M. Renoir posted on

    Hello,

    Could you please tell me if the Pathway is likely to offer mechanisms not only for farmers continuing to farm animals in their current numbers or to increase their numbers, but also to support farmers interested in reducing stocking densities/moving to agroecological/organic practices to combine better welfare opportunities, fewer AMR contribution risks, etc.?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Replies to M. Renoir>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Hello,

      Thank you for reading and responding to this post.

      The AHW Pathway is being co-designed with industry members to ensure that it remains flexible enough to benefit all farms. Within the Pathway, we are continuing to co-design and develop a payment-by-results scheme for animal welfare.

      This will reward farmers for achieving higher animal welfare outcomes at a level beyond compliance with current regulations through ongoing payments. The exact outcomes and enhancements we might reward are still being identified.

      The Pathway is part of the wider Future Farming programme and Agricultural Transition Plan, so farmers will of course still be able to access other schemes they wish to participate in and are eligible for, such as the Sustainable Farming Initiative, which will fund environmental land management actions.

      We hope this helps answer your question and please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

      Best wishes,
      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  7. Comment by R jones posted on

    Can l ask the hourly rate of pay the Veterinary Surgeons will be paid for their advice and will this task be delegated to farm technicians or remain the sole responsibility of the designated vet? We all know that the level of knowledge and expertease varies widly between years qualified and the number of cases presented , with high numbers leaving the veterinary profession how will consistency be maintained.

    Reply
    • Replies to R jones>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Hello,

      More detailed information regarding vet visits during the Annual Health & Welfare Review, including the level of payments to farmers, will be published shortly. Payments will include funding for the vet time (2-3 hours) and costs of testing for a priority disease or condition, depending upon species. We are working directly with members of the veterinary industry to co-design these farm visits and it will be for vets to set their rates with farmers, so they are suitably rewarded for their contributions.

      Longer term, the vets and on-farm team will work in partnership to carry out the recommendations resulting from the Review. Farmers will be working with their trusted vet, whom they already have a secure relationship with, for consistency over the course of the Pathway.

      Best wishes,
      AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  8. Comment by D.Bowe posted on

    Could you please clarify who foots the bill for the ongoing “costs “!

    Reply
    • Replies to D.Bowe>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Hello,

      Thank you for taking time to visit the blog and for your question.

      This is where financial support will come in. As part of the Pathway, grants will fund upfront investments in equipment, technology and infrastructure to support health and welfare improvements. Meanwhile, Payment by Results will address ongoing costs by rewarding farmers for achieving higher animal welfare outcomes at a level beyond compliance with current regulations through the government's post-CAP funding commitment.

      We hope this helps answer your query and please do get in touch if you would like to know more.

      Best wishes,
      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  9. Comment by Mike posted on

    We need to be careful how we differentiate between "actual" welfare and "perceived" welfare and how welfare is compared to environmental impact in terms of justifying reward.
    Allocating public money to initiatives that deliver what the consumer would regard as "a life worth living" are difficult to qualify when competing with initiatives that are delivering better sustainability.

    The more intensive livestock sectors can deliver lower environmental impact scores (however we choose to score it) and lower measured welfare outcomes but not necessarily in the manner that the consumer (taxpayer) expects.

    Reply
    • Replies to Mike>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Hello Mike, thanks for reading our post and for your comment.

      We understand that there is a level of subjectivity when it comes to 'higher health and welfare'.

      We have, therefore, worked hard in collaboration with our industry partners across sectors to co-design the specific health and welfare aspects that will be prioritised and rewarded within the Pathway. Further details about these priorities will be published soon.

      The Pathway will take an integrated approach when it comes to health and welfare, so that both environmental sustainability and welfare improvements may be achieved.

      Best wishes,
      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  10. Comment by Sue Andrews posted on

    In full agreement of this statement

    Reply
    • Replies to Sue Andrews>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for your support Sue. Please subscribe to blog for the latest on the Pathway.

      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply
  11. Comment by James Hadwin posted on

    Having engaged in a lot of animal health improvements, recognizing the importance of this in the profitability of my business, I wonder how, and if, those that have spent money on improving animal health by looking into iceberg diseases in sheep such as, MV, CLA, OPA etc etc, will be rewarded. The danger is that those that have already done a lot of this and going to miss out on the reward for their investment and efforts. There is a role within this for specialist advisors and also, more importantly, farmers who have been there and done it, those who had an issue and dealt with it on a practical level are invaluable in helping others to do the same and in doing so also helping others to cope with the mental health issues having to deal with these disease can cause.

    Reply
    • Replies to James Hadwin>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to our post James.

      We appreciate all the effort you, and others, have been putting into tackling disease on your holdings. We are aware that iceberg diseases in sheep are particularly challenging as their subclinical nature and similar symptoms can make them difficult to spot.

      We want to ensure that the Pathway helps all sheep farmers to progress and improve, which is why actions taken through the Pathway will be tailored towards how far a holding has already come in its sheep health journey.

      We are co-designing with representatives from the sheep industry, which includes not only vets, but also specialist advisors and farmers (who are heavily engaged in improving the health of their sheep like yourself), to answer how exactly we can provide further support that recognises the steps a farmer has already made.

      We also recognise the importance of mental health, and hope that the insight of these farmers will allow us to tackle endemic disease in a holistic way, considering its impact on farmers beyond the health of the flock itself.

      The AHW Pathway Team

      Reply

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