RSPCA responds to Stacey review on farm inspections and animal welfare

UK, 17 December 2018 - A more flexible and incentives-led approach to farming regulation has been recommended as part of a wide-ranging review into the sector published Thursday 13 December
calendar icon 17 December 2018
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The final report by Dame Glenys Stacey, concludes that the current regulation of the farming sector – with its one-size-fits-all rules-based approach – is far too inflexible. Leaving the EU provides the opportunity to do things differently.

The report recommends a new independent regulator that would be supportive of farmers’ individual circumstances, offering them practical advice, guidance and helping to incentivise good practice.

This means local advisers would be able to visit farmers to discuss issues such as biosecurity, soil quality or animal welfare, rather than turning up to impose an automatic sanction. In other words, the regulator should work alongside farmers – to “do with” rather than to “do to” in order to ensure high standards.

The report, which was commissioned by Environment Secretary Michael Gove in February, also recommends better use of technology. For instance, through satellite data and drones to monitor field margins and other public goods that the land manager is contracted to deliver.

Changing the balance between ‘on foot’ and remote surveillance would make inspections more efficient for the regulator and less burdensome for the farmer.

Dame Glenys Stacey said:

"As things are, farmers are subject to a number of pernickety and sometimes nonsensical rules. There is little practical advice or guidance given to ensure compliance. Instead, automatic financial penalties have become the norm when at times they are unfair.

"The large majority of farmers want to farm responsibly but some need guidance, advice and support to do that. A regulator should provide that, and explain why any change on the farm is needed. Yes, sometimes swingeing sanctions are justified, but more often, more is achieved by a more supportive approach.

"There is so much scope to regulate more effectively, by harnessing technology and local knowledge. A strong regulatory culture brings many opportunities – from getting on top of systemic issues such as animal diseases, to improving plant health and our environment under the new farming system."

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

"Dame Glenys and her team have done excellent work on this comprehensive review into farm regulation and inspections, drawing on what works best in other sectors.

"It’s clear that current regulation isn’t working as it should. We commissioned this report because leaving the EU gives us the opportunity for a fresh and modern approach – one that is less onerous for farmers and also helps us to deliver on our environmental ambitions."

The government will respond to the review in the New Year.

Dr Marc Cooper, Head of Farm Animals at the RSPCA issued a statement following the publication of the report: “We welcome the independent review into farm inspections and regulation and agree that the current approach under the EU requires strengthening.

“The current inspection procedure needs a much greater, more focussed emphasis on farm animal welfare. We have been calling for an enforcement regime which ensures that the welfare of farm animals is adequately and effectively safeguarded. Legal requirements need to be met strictly and effectively, with poor practice and legal breaches properly addressed.

“We are pleased that a new independent regulator under the post-EU farming system has been proposed. We also believe a more collaborative approach of working with farmers, that takes account of individual circumstances and offers bespoke practical advice, guidance and help to incentivise higher animal welfare could be beneficial.

"We look forward to seeing the details of these proposals to see whether they will deliver these benefits."

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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