Government farm inspections lower, finds report

Welfare inspections on farms carried out by government inspectors have reduced, while farm animal assurance schemes are doing more.

In a new review of ‘the implications for animal welfare of farm assurance schemes’, carried out by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC), it was noted that public sector inspections were reducing, while inspections carried out by private schemes, such as Red Tractor and Freedom Food, were on the up.

Two sources said government inspectors were focusing on farms without a private assurance scheme in place. “I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about that,” chief policy advisor at Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) Peter Stevenson told MeatInfo.co.uk.

“[All] farms should be inspected by government authorities regularly, but we recognise there are times when resources are limited. It is important that the assurance schemes cover all parts.”

The review said: “Paradoxically, while the public sector is reducing the frequency of inspections and the broader regulatory procedures of certain areas of farm animal welfare, private forms of regulation, along with the number of associated farm visits, are increasing.”

Private is positive

The committee viewed the extra take-up of private inspections as good, saying it was a positive contributor to animal welfare. However, it said there needed to be a greater coordination of visits across the public and private sectors “to avoid multiple/repetitive inspection visits”, which it said were burdensome and costly.

“The development of the government’s risk-based inspection process offers compliant assurance scheme members the real added value of fewer public inspections,” they said.

NFU skills and better regulation adviser Lee Osborne said: “We believe it is right that the effort and cost farmers and growers contribute to meeting and passing their farm assurance audits are also recognised by statutory inspections in recognition of the lower risk that these businesses pose.

"While an earned recognition approach is in place for a number of inspection regimes, this doesn’t necessarily mean we are seeing a reduction in the total number of on-farm inspections, but it is an opportunity to improve targeting of those inspections to where the risks of non-compliance are highest.”

A spokesperson from Defra, meanwhile, told MeatInfo.co.uk: “This review clearly shows that accredited assurance scheme farms are more likely to deliver higher animal welfare standards, which has major benefits for both producers and consumers. As these farms present a much lower risk of breaching EU and national animal welfare rules, this allows government inspectors to focus on farms at greater risk of low welfare standards.

"However, accredited assurance scheme farms are still subject to random inspections according to EU law, and concerns from the general public about individual farms will be investigated.”

Red Tractor chief executive David Clarke said government-sponsored research showed compliance was “significantly” better on assured farms. He explained that Red Tractor made very regular farm assessments to ensure welfare standards were being met, “significantly more frequent than regulatory inspections”.

Increasing standards

The review spoke highly of the impact assurance schemes have had on welfare standards, which committee members expect to continue to rise. Yet the committee identified the need to keep pushing standards and said: “There are some key areas we have identified, which need to be addressed in order to drive welfare forward to provide a ‘good life’ for an increasing proportion of animals and a life ‘worth living’ for all.”

Indeed, Stevenson saw this as a given and said although “assurance schemes have played a part in improving things”, there was still a long way to go.