6. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that super-dairies do not have a detrimental effect on animal welfare and traditional British farming. (131731)
There is a place in UK agriculture for all sustainable production systems that meet our welfare and environmental standards. That is necessary to enable the industry to be competitive in UK, EU and global markets. Increasing the size of herds does not necessarily mean reducing welfare. More important factors are the design and construction of the units and the level of management and skill of the stockmen.
I am delighted that we have some of the most stringent regulations in the world to protect cattle, but can my hon. Friend confirm that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations will be rigorously enforced to protect cattle from those who would exploit them?
I can certainly confirm that. The 2006 Act provides a duty of care to animals, which includes welfare provisions. We will rigorously enforce those measures to ensure that the welfare of farmed animals is maintained.
One of the greatest problems for dairy farmers is the retention and disposal of slurry, especially in poor weather conditions. What steps is the Minister taking to help to ensure that farmers can dispose of slurry in the poor conditions we face.
Members are being very inventive in their use of questions today. This is a real issue: many of us find it frustrating that slurry disposal is dictated by date rather than good husbandry practice. As the hon. Gentleman may know, I have extended the period for spreading slurry in England to the greatest extent I can within the regulations. I cannot do more than that, but we are working with the industry to find the best possible ways of helping farmers to dispose of slurry, which they cannot currently spread on wet fields.
Long-term successful farmers always make animal welfare and nutrition top priorities. Does the Minister agree that at the heart of all successful and profitable farming lies a commitment to animal welfare and that any system should be judged against that principle?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A good stockman recognises that the welfare of the animals under his or her control is of paramount importance. No one can farm well if they ignore the welfare of animals. As far as we are concerned, maintaining the highest possible welfare standards—as well as maintaining the pressure on the European Union more widely to adopt them—is a top priority.