Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 3:15 pm, 30th October 2018

I went to a higher-welfare pig farm when I was shadow Secretary of State and was appalled to learn that while it could make money selling the pigs to local butchers, any pigs that it could not sell to local butchers or restaurants for local consumption had to be sold to the supermarket, at a loss of £80 per pig. Something is clearly very wrong with a farming system where higher-welfare farmers cannot be funded that way. I also went to a higher-welfare chicken farm that was making 2p profit per chicken, which I thought said an awful lot about the broken market model. Perhaps the pig farmer who the right hon. Gentleman met would like to be paid per intact pig tail—perhaps he could raise that with him.

One of the problems with the pig sector is that it is quite easy to move into or increase numbers, therefore the market fluctuates. If farmers get a good price, people start moving in, and before we know it, too many pigs are on the market and the price dips again—we could spend a lot of time on the economics of farming.

Funding could be available for farmers in the dairy sector who keep their cows on pasture during the grass-growing season. That is a requirement of the pasture promise scheme, which is being developed by a group of farmers. There is a wide range in the welfare quality of laying hens provided for by free-range farms. We know that ordinary free-range systems are supported by the market and are very successful—once eggs started to be marked as free range, the public responded. However, some free-range systems have much lower stocking density, a low flock size, and trees and bushes around, so there are welfare differences among different free-range providers.

At the moment, only 1.2% of UK broilers are produced to RSPCA assured standards. There is an argument for saying that we should provide support only to broiler farmers who are members of the RSPCA assured scheme, so as to encourage others to move away from the lower standard of broiler production. I am not saying that the ones outside the RSPCA assured scheme necessarily have poor animal welfare standards, but clearly there is a higher benchmark to which people could aspire, and we ought to be encouraging them to do that.

Will the Minister say how cross-compliance will work and how we will monitor basic animal welfare standards? How is he going to come up with the higher animal welfare definition, what sort of things will it include, and will he promise to bring it forward a little sooner?