12 October 2001


Better welfare practices

cant come without

economic support, says

Peter Stevenson

Many people are now talking about agricultural reform. Certainly Compassion in World Farming would like to see an end to the intensive practices which are common for poultry and fattening pigs and to animals being taken on long journeys to slaughter. In particular, we hope the live export trade will never resume.

But how do we create a climate of economic viability for these changes? First, the CAP must be reformed. CIWF believes that part of the £25bn spent each year under the CAP must be re-directed to give financial support to farmers who move from intensive to high welfare systems.

A new farm animal welfare scheme should be established to help farmers with the capital costs of introducing better systems and for a transitional period of, say, four years, with the extra running costs. It is the transitional period which is the most vulnerable for any business which embarks on fundamental change.

Second, we the public must recognise that it is our demand for cheap food that has fuelled intensive farming. If we want more humane food, we must be prepared to pay for it. What is essential is that farmers are not asked to bear the increased costs of better welfare. They must be allowed to pass those extra costs on to supermarkets and then to consumers.

That said, it is worth stressing that changing to higher welfare systems often adds relatively little to on-farm production costs – though, even then, it is the consumer, not the farmer, who should pay. NFU figures show that a free-range egg costs just 1.54p more to produce than a battery egg (a barn egg costs just 0.7p more to produce than a battery egg). As we each eat just 163 eggs a year, we could change from battery to free-range for £2.51 each a year, provided that retailers charge no more extra for free-range than is needed to cover the additional production costs.

Similarly, MLC figures show that changing from sow stalls to group housing has added less than 2p to the cost of producing a kg of pigmeat. As we each eat on average 21.3 kg of pigmeat a year, the sow stall ban should have added less than 50p a year to each persons food bill.

Studies show that with finishing pigs, providing better welfare in the form of more space, environmental enrichment results in healthier animals. It also lowers costs by reducing the use of veterinary medicines and brings better feed conversion ratios and greater productivity through faster growth and reduced mortality.

Clearly, supermarkets and caterers have a vital role to play. I would like to see all following the lead of Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and McDonalds in refusing to sell or use battery eggs. Moreover, similar policies should apply to pork, bacon and poultry meat. Having established high standards, the supermarkets must pay farmers a fair price and reverse the trend under which a declining proportion of each £ we spend on food gets back to farmers.

Above all, we must secure changes to the World Trade Organisation rules. At present, when the EU bans a rearing system on welfare grounds in its own territory, it cannot – under WTO rules – ban the import of meat or eggs coming from animals reared in that system in third countries. That has to change.

When the EU sets improved welfare standards, it must be able to apply them not just to domestic produce but also to imports. The WTO rules must be reformed so that legitimate concerns such as food safety, animal welfare and the environment do not have to be sacrificed to free trade.

&#8226 Peter Stevenson is political and legal director of Compassion in World Farming. He studied economics and law at Cambridge University. He has written reports on the impact of the World Trade Organisation on animal welfare and the economics of intensive farming.


If we want more

humane food, we must be prepared to pay for it. What is essential is that farmers are not

asked to bear

the increased

costs of better


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