Reaping the rewards from UK leadership in farm animal welfare: time for a national strategy

Research led by the University of Bristol and partners provides the evidence to show that current support for improved animal welfare policy is sustainable and achievable.

Where are we now?

Historically, UK farm animal welfare policy was dominated by Government measures including world-leading animal protection legislation. In some sectors, EU legislation has also improved animal husbandry systems and aligned standards with our major trading partners. However, in recent years the market – a complex interaction between retailers, industry groups and animal welfare charities - has become the major driver.  This has resulted in sector-specific animal welfare strategies and world-leading independently certified assurance schemes such as Red Tractor Assurance and RSPCA Assured.

This combination of government and industry initiatives means that the UK has a recognised reputation: “UK farmers and producers are rightly proud of their high animal welfare standards.1

However, maintaining this reputation should not be taken for granted. Given future trading arrangements, and the investment in animal welfare by competitors such as New Zealand and Australia, further action is needed.

Where are we going?

The development of a post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is an opportunity to establish an ambitious animal welfare strategy that delivers a continuous improvement approach at a national level. A similar national level initiative is Origin Green2 in Ireland which demonstrates the potential for a national approach. This will require a new era in animal welfare leadership: a genuine collaboration between Government, industry and civil society organisations3.

Contact the researchers

Professor David Main, Professor of Animal Welfare

Dr Siobhan Mullan, Senior Research Fellow 

Policy recommendations

What could a successful strategy include?
• Clear, consistent labelling across all sectors that combine simple consumer messages (such as method of production descriptors, i.e. the type of farm) and how animal welfare is measured (outcome safeguards, as delivered currently by independent farm assurance schemes).
• A national animal welfare database that collates information on the good life opportunities and welfare outcome results of UK farms. This could be used to recognise and reward continuous improvement, and justify animal welfare marketing claims.
• Financial support for local, national and international initiatives that market animal welfare as a quality criterion for UK livestock products.
• A national animal welfare strategy that is focussed on animal welfare should be recognised as a business opportunity to promote UK-produced livestock products at home and abroad.

Research summaries

The University of Bristol is actively involved in farm assurance schemes and welfare assessment research projects, considering the dairy, pig, sheep and laying hen sectors, and consumer products and pricing.

Image credit: Susan Richmond

Animal welfare is what we are and who we are

Sheep farmer, participant in in-depth interview

I think positive welfare is gonna be even more important as we approach Brexit and beyond.

Sheep farmer, participant in in-depth interview

Policy Implications

• The distinctiveness of UK farm assurance schemes, and how they assess the animal’s welfare, should be articulated
more clearly to consumers and the wider public.
• The resource tier framework should be piloted across livestock sectors, to assess which sectors currently go above
and beyond minimum legal or scheme requirements, so that focus can be targeted accordingly.
• Financial incentives to encourage and recognise good life resources provided by farmers, such as by updating
existing schemes, should be considered.
• Opportunities for farmers to develop and maintain good practice networks in animal welfare standards should be
• The food and animal produce network in the UK requires a holistic overview, from farm to food to plate, to unblock
any unnecessary barriers to encouraging good animal welfare.

Further Information

1 Brexit: farm animal welfare, 5th Report of Session 2017-19, House of Lords European Union Committee

2 Origin Green, Ireland

3 Main, D., Mullan, S. (2017) A new era of UK leadership in farm animal welfare Veterinary Record 181, 49-50.

4 AssureWel

5 Mullan, S., Szmaragd, C., Cooper, MD., Wrathall, JHM., Jamieson, J., Bond, A., Atkinson, C., & Main, DCJ. (2016) Animal
welfare initiatives improve feather cover of cage-free laying hens in the UK. Animal Welfare, 25:2 243-253.

6 Pandolfi, F., Stoddart, K., Wainwright, N., Kyriazakis, I., & Edwards, S. (2017). The ‘Real Welfare’ scheme: Benchmarking
welfare outcomes for commercially farmed pigs. Animal, 11(10), 1816-1824.

7 Edgar, J.L.; Mullan, S.M.; Pritchard, J.C.; McFarlane, U.J.C.; Main, D.C.J. Towards a ‘Good Life’ for Farm Animals:
Development of a Resource Tier Framework to Achieve Positive Welfare for Laying Hens. Animals 2013, 3, 584-605.

8 Stokes, J.E., Main, DCJ., Mullan, S., Haskell, MJ., Wemelsfelder, F., & Dwyer, CM. (2017) Collaborative Development of
Positive Welfare Indicators With Dairy Cattle And Sheep Farmers, Proceeding of UFAW International Symposium 27th-
29th June 2017 Royal Holloway, University of London, Surrey, UK. Page 133


Professor David Main, Dr Jessica Stokes, Dr Siobhan Mullan, University of Bristol

Edit this page