With the aim of incentivising best practice in sheep health, welfare and production, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has unveiled plans that it hopes Defra and the devolved administrations will carry forward as part of their negotiations in the current reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The new scheme will allow livestock farmers to access funding under Pillar Two of the CAP if they earn enough points from a menu of best practice initiatives, such as health planning, advisory visits from their vet, involvement in voluntary monitoring and health schemes, optional biosecurity measures and effective disease quarantine procedures. Such measures will increase efficiency, reduce resource use and help address climate change needs.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, launched the concept at the Sheep Health and Welfare Conference held today (21st November) in Worcester. He said: “Pillar Two of CAP already has point-based agri-environment schemes, which farmers are familiar with and utilise to farm hand-in-hand with the environment and provide a huge amount of public goods. NSA believes an animal health scheme along the same lines would provide much-needed funding to help farmers invest and build on the strong track-record the UK already has in animal health and welfare. Given the links between good health, increased production levels and reductions in carbon emissions, such as scheme would not only provide public goods in further improving health and welfare standards, but also increase output, be it meat or milk, and encourage farmers to maintain or even increase flock and herd sizes.”
Mr Stocker said such encouragement is essential at a time when the world population and demand for food is growing exponentially, yet resource constraints and climate change are putting huge pressure on farmers around the world. It is also particularly timely for the UK, where domestic animal health and welfare budgets are already under immense pressure and face further cuts backs as the Government’s spending review continues.
“We must take action and create this scheme under the current CAP reform,” he said. “The UK sheep flock has shrunk significantly in recent years and the picture is similar for all other livestock sectors too. Any scheme that halts or reverses this trend is money well spent – and not just from an animal health and food production point of view, but also all the associated benefits provided by grazing livestock to our environment and rural communities.”
Working on this proposed scheme with Government departments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is a priority for the NSA, working alongside a number of stakeholder groups who have given the idea their outline support.
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