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Livestock Farmers

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 10 March 2022

Livestock production is important for food production, the capture of carbon in pasture and the preservation of some of our most iconic landscapes. Our new policies—including the new animal health and welfare pathway and the newly increased farming investment fund—will support livestock farmers.

What progress has my hon. Friend made on examining the Welsh compensation scheme for cattle destroyed because of suspected tuberculosis? I understand that the Welsh model pays the value of the animal that is destroyed. What plans does she have to replace the standardised valuations in England, particularly in respect of prize-winning high-quality breeds?

The Welsh Government intend to move away from their current practice of individual animal valuation. They are considering and have recently consulted on moving to a practice of table valuation, such as we use in England. I understand that my hon. Friend recently met the Secretary of State, with her constituent Andrew Birkle, to discuss this important issue.

Most livestock farmers want to follow the best animal welfare standards, and consumers need to have confidence in that. I do not know whether the Minister saw the recent “Panorama” episode, “A Cow’s Life”, but it shows yet another Red Tractor farm that is not meeting those standards. What is she doing to ensure better consumer confidence and to make sure that livestock farmers live up to the standards that they profess to adopt?

The hon. Lady is a great campaigner for animal welfare and she and I have discussed these issues many times previously. She is right to raise the important issue of animal welfare again and I would be delighted to talk to her about our recently published animal health and welfare pathway. An annual vet visit to every farm and direct discussion between the vet and the farmer will really help at a granular and practical level to bring about the increases in animal welfare that we all want.

As with the pandemic, the dreadful situation in Ukraine has brought food security into sharp relief. Currently, the pig sector in the UK is still in crisis, with thousands of animals dammed back on farms and more than 40,000, sadly, having been culled on farms and not going into the food supply chain, creating huge health and welfare issues. I know that the Government have put measures in place and that the Minister is chairing summits, but can she update the House on what the Government are doing to avert this human and animal welfare crisis?

It is fair to say that the dreadful situation in Ukraine means that food security in the broader sense is uppermost in all our minds. We must feel very fortunate in this country that we grow almost all our own grain and are able to be so self-sufficient—74% self-sufficient in the food that we grow. That is not to say that we should be complacent. The Government are working very closely with industry at all levels, with processors and retailers, and not just in the pig sector.

The £150 million impediment to livestock farmers as a consequence of the New Zealand trade deal is a direct consequence of Brexit, as are the lack of Northern Irish animals at Stirling bull sales; the lack of an ability to export seed potatoes to Northern Ireland and the EU; the tariffs on jute sacks for seed potatoes; and the nightmare of exporting shellfish. These are direct consequences of Brexit. Can the Minister give my Angus farmers just one single benefit of Brexit and make sure that it is not some nebulous opportunity that has not been realised?

I wish—and I am sure that some of the hon. Gentlemen’s farmers wish—that the Scottish Government were going with the real benefits that we are able to make as a result of Brexit in the agricultural space. In England, we will be able to move towards a system of paying people for producing public goods. In Scotland, that option is not yet available to farmers. I will be meeting NFU Scotland later today to discuss further issues to do with Scottish farming.

I note that the Minister did not address the question about the pig crisis. Pig farmers have been in crisis month after month after month, and, frankly, the Government’s response has always been too little and too late. As was said, more than 40,000 pigs already culled on farms have been completely wasted. It is becoming apparent that one problem is the failure of the processors to honour the contracts to farmers. How much more suffering has to be endured before the Minister does as she has hinted that she might do and passes this to the Competition and Markets Authority, so that we can find out what has been going wrong in what increasingly looks like a broken market?

Only time constraints prevented me from setting out in full what we are doing with the pig industry. We have been careful to work with the pig industry in lockstep at all stages and have brought into play actual schemes that are helping them today. I agree that the supply chain in pigs is in trouble. I have said that frequently, and I have started a review of that supply chain—a serious and systematic review—which may well result in regulatory change. In the collection of the evidence, we will certainly refer matters to the Competition and Markets Authority at the appropriate time, when we have the right evidence. In the interim, I would be most grateful if any pig farmer or producer sent me a copy of a contract, which has been very, very hard to find, as I would very much like to see that.