Hunger for cheap food puts animal care at risk

Britain’s quest for cheap food is causing animal welfare problems on some farms, veterinary experts have warned.

Lower incomes, tighter profit margins and a flood of food imports mean livestock farmers are being forced to cut corners, a meeting of the British Veterinary Association animal welfare forum was told last Wednesday (24 May).

BVA president elect David Catlow said the association needed to get the message across to policy makers and the government that demand for cheaper food was having unintended consequences.

“Until food policy changes and there is more profitability at the farm gate, we will continue to see problems.

We need to re-emphasise the point that our cheap food policy is having a detrimental effect on animal welfare.”

Faced with falling profits, farmers were working harder, reducing costs and keeping more animals.

“It is a quite obvious approach to running your business when times are hard.”

But this sometimes meant stocking rates were increased without an accompanying increase in investment.

This was leading to inadequate housing for adult dairy cattle and “horrendous” lameness problems.

“Farmers are working very hard. They are trying, but they don’t have the facility to invest in sufficient calving pens.

They are overstocked and cows are calving in cubicles now.”

Many producers could no longer afford to call out the vet.

This was the harsh reality of reducing farm incomes, which meant many farmers were forced to self-treat their livestock.

“We have a vicious circle.

We have a downward spiral of veterinary practices becoming less profitable, so there are fewer vets travelling further to get to a unit.

That means that the vet has higher fees, so the farmer is using the vet less, which means practices are less profitable.”

But Mr Catlow said it was important that the association did not suggest there were widespread problems with animal welfare.

“There are some very good livestock units out there and not every farm has a problem.

But there are issues out there and we have to be constructive rather than destructive.”