Policy paper

Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

Updated 21 December 2023

Applies to England

The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway (the Pathway) was launched in 2023.

The Pathway supports continual improvement in farm animal health and welfare. The Pathway is a partnership – the government is working together on each step with farmers, vets, the wider industry and the supply chain.

The Pathway is a critical part of the farming reforms set out in the Agricultural Transition Plan, delivering benefits for animal health and welfare, farm productivity, food security, public health, UK trade and the environment.

The farming for the future paper provided an outline of the Pathway in February 2020. This paper includes this outline and an update to the Pathway in July 2023.

About the Pathway

The Pathway consists of 3 mutually reinforcing strands.

1. Financially rewarding farmers who deliver public goods

As Direct Payments decline, we are reinvesting some of the money to support the production of healthier, higher welfare animals. We are providing incentives for farmers to go above the regulatory baseline and rewarding higher animal health and welfare on the farm. We are focusing on improvements which are valued by the public but not sufficiently delivered by the market.

What’s new (update July 2023)

We launched the Annual Health and Welfare Review in 2023 as part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). This fully funded vet visit will be the first step on the Pathway for many farmers. Find out more about the annual health and welfare review of livestock and how to apply.

The first round of Equipment and Technology Grants launched in spring 2023, offering farmers grants towards the cost of a list of more than 100 items that improve animal health and welfare. Work has now begun to prepare for the next funding round, with grants expected to be available every year throughout the Agricultural Transition.

In the summer, we launched the Calf Housing for Health and Welfare infrastructure grant. This offer supports farmers to build new and upgrade existing calf housing that improves social contact and the ambient environment. See the Farming Investment Fund page for more details.

Rollout of our other financial support

We are expanding infrastructure grants to fund transformational projects for other livestock sectors that will enable farmers to achieve higher levels of animal health and welfare. Disease eradication and control programmes, and payment by results will follow. The Pathway is a long-term project that will evolve based on the successes it achieves.

See the funding programmes for more details.

2. Stimulating market demand for higher welfare products

The majority of consumers value high animal welfare, but this is not fully reflected in what they purchase. We want to make it easier for consumers to purchase food that aligns with their values, by:

  • improving transparency
  • providing the industry with a level playing field to promote such products

We are looking at potential market interventions that could improve the accessibility, availability and affordability of higher welfare products for consumers, while driving positive procurement choices by retailers.

This can ensure that farmers receive a fair price for higher welfare products, reflecting the true market value and demand for these products. Improving how the market functions in this way allows public money to be more effectively directed to other animal welfare interventions.

What’s new (update July 2023)

In 2021, we held a call for evidence on labelling for animal welfare. Read a summary of responses to the call for evidence on labelling for animal welfare.

3. Strengthening the regulatory baseline

We plan to strengthen delivery of the regulatory baseline by improving compliance with our current high standards. Where it is appropriate to raise the bar we will do this in consultation with all relevant sectors and provide sufficient notice of changes so that farmers can plan properly.

We will provide capital grants, partnering with farmers, to transition to a new standard in cases where this delivers good value for money. We want to ensure our future standards are:

  • outcomes-focused wherever possible
  • subject to less burdensome checks as part of a trust-based relationship between farmers and government

What’s new (update July 2023)

We will continue to work with retailers and producers to ensure we maintain and enhance the high standards of animal health and welfare we have in this country, including on our farms.

The government’s animal welfare priorities for its Animal Health and Welfare Pathway include supporting producers to transition away from confinement systems.

The Animals (Penalty Notices) Act 2022 sets out a legal framework to issue penalties to those not complying with animal health and welfare regulations. Offences will need to be identified and turned on via secondary legislation.

On 25 May, we launched a consultation asking for views on the appropriateness of penalty notices across a range of animal health and welfare policies. The goal is for penalty notices to sit alongside the existing portfolio of enforcement measures and provide an additional option for enforcers.

For serious welfare offences prosecution would always be the most appropriate outcome and for that reason we are not switching on the option of penalty notices for section 4 to 8 offences in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

What we want to achieve

The Pathway is central to the government’s manifesto commitment to protect and enhance farm animal health and welfare, and to maintain and build on our existing world-leading standards. It supports several government strategies by:

Health and welfare priorities

The primary goal of the Pathway is to improve farm animal health and welfare across our national herds and flocks. To deliver gradual yet continual improvement, we have determined animal health and welfare priorities for each livestock sector on the Pathway through co-design with industry, vets, non-government organisations and welfare scientists.

We reached collective agreement on most priorities; some represent compromises between differing stakeholder views. Included in these are the priority endemic diseases and conditions published in the Agricultural Transition Plan in November 2020.

Supporting better stockmanship, particularly through training, is an overarching priority across all sectors, as a critical enabler for good health and welfare.

These priorities are guiding development of the Pathway, shaping the advice given, information collected and incentives offered. We will review priorities as we progress along the Pathway, working collaboratively with industry to adapt and learn as we go.

Meat chickens

For meat chickens, our priorities are to:

  • support implementation of the Better Chicken Commitment which requires slower-growing breeds, lower stocking densities and restrictions on thinning birds – these all contribute to improved health and welfare outcomes such as fewer leg disorders
  • adopt welfare-improving technology to support environmental and behavioural monitoring and better stockmanship

Laying hens

For laying hens, our priorities are to:

  • transition out of cages – we are exploring potential reforms around the use of enriched cages for laying hens, which can restrict hens’ normal behaviours such as dustbathing (the Pathway will support producers shifting away from their use)
  • improve feather cover management – we want to support farmers to address the underlying root causes of feather pecking, reducing the need for infra-red beak trimming
  • improve keel bone health to reduce laying hens’ susceptibly to painful fractures which can occur in all production systems

Pigs

For pigs, our priorities are to:

  • improve biosecurity to control endemic pig diseases and help prevent the introduction of exotic disease threats
  • tackle porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus which costs the industry an estimated £52 million per year and increases antibiotic use
  • reduce sow confinement during farrowing by supporting producers in shifting to less confined alternatives for the sow, whilst ensuring the welfare of her piglets and the safety of workers (we are also exploring potential reforms around the use of farrowing crates, which can restrict sows’ normal behaviours such as nesting)
  • reduce stressors to keep tails intact – we want to support farmers in addressing the underlying causes of high stress levels in pigs which trigger tail biting, such as poor environmental enrichment, so that farmers feel confident to not dock tails

Cattle (beef and dairy)

For beef and dairy cattle, our priorities are to:

  • tackle bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) which costs the industry between £14 to 36 million per year and raises greenhouse gas emissions from cattle
  • reduce lameness and mastitis to improve health and welfare, increase productivity and decrease the environmental impacts of farming
  • upgrade housing – many farm buildings are not optimally designed for cattle, especially calves (we will encourage improvements in ventilation, cow comfort, loafing areas and enrichments such as scratching brushes)
  • improve pain management during disbudding, dehorning and castration through greater adoption of prolonged analgesia to improve the welfare and performance of calves
  • improve the welfare of cattle at pastures through improvements in shelter, drainage, gateways and tracks that support the normal behaviours associated with grazing and being outdoors

Sheep

For sheep, our priorities are to:

  • provide tailored health screening to address a range of endemic diseases,  estimated to cost the sector around £85 million per year – initially this will focus on internal and external parasites (and associated anthelmintic efficacy), mastitis, ‘iceberg’ diseases and those inducing abortion
  • reduce lameness as it is one of the most common signs of ill health and discomfort among sheep, affecting animals’ mobility, productivity and longevity
  • improve ewe sustainability, optimising body condition so that ewes are less susceptible to disease, produce better quality milk and can rear a greater number of healthier lambs
  • improve pain management during castration and tail docking – we want to support the licensing and uptake of pain relief to reduce the impact of these procedures

Funding programmes

The Pathway’s first strand (financially rewarding farmers who deliver public goods) involves 4 funding programmes.

These all work together to deliver our health and welfare priorities, providing funding for high-quality veterinary advice, capital investment and ongoing costs.

1. Annual Health and Welfare Review (the Review launched in February 2023)

The Review:

  • offers farmers funding for an annual visit from a vet of their choice to consider the health and welfare of their animals (this includes carrying out diagnostic testing, reviewing biosecurity and the use of medicines, and provide bespoke advice on actions and available support to improve the health and welfare of their animals)
  • adds value to existing practices and assurance scheme requirements. and builds upon the strong relationships that already exist between farmers and vets

The Review is for farmers who have:

  • 11 or more beef cattle
  • 11 or more dairy cattle
  • 21 or more sheep
  • 51 or more pigs

Our intent is that this is a time limited offer for 3 years. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the Review and consult on the need for further regulation beyond this timeframe.

What’s new (update July 2023)

The Review is now open to all eligible keepers.

Read the guidance for farmers on GOV.UK

Read the guidance for vets on GOV.UK

What’s next

We plan to introduce the option for keepers to have more than one Review each year if they keep:

  • more than one species
  • multiple herds and flocks of the same species

2. Animal health and welfare capital grants (launched in March 2023)

Farmers can apply for grants to co-fund capital investments to support the delivery of the published health and welfare priorities. This includes:

  • smaller grants, where farmers can select from a list of equipment and technology items
  • larger infrastructure grants, for bespoke projects such as new housing, building upgrades and pasture improvements

The competitive grants will initially be open to livestock farmers with cattle, pigs, sheep, meat chickens and laying hens. In future years of the programme, we hope to expand to other livestock farmers such as those with goats, ducks or turkeys.

What’s new (update July 2023)

The first round of the equipment and technology grant closed on 15 June 2023.

The first infrastructure grant, Calf Housing for Health and Welfare, launched on 7 September. This initial offer will support cattle farmers to build new or upgrade existing calf housing that improves social contact and the ambient environment. This will support farmers to produce healthy calves that are likely to be more resilient and productive in later life. Applications for this grant closed on 30 November. We are currently assessing the applications received.

What’s next

We will be evaluating the first round of the small grant and seeking input from farmers, vets and academics on how to shape the next round.

Through co-design with industry partners, we are expanding infrastructure grants to other livestock sectors, next funding poultry and pig farmers to improve health and welfare of their livestock through upgrades to housing.

3. Disease eradication and control programmes (from early 2024)

Farmers will be able to apply for financial support to prevent and reduce endemic diseases and conditions, building on the initial advice given in the Review.

The programmes will:

  • focus initially on cattle, pig and sheep farmers, aiming to maximise the delivery of public goods, including climate change mitigation, slowing the rise of anti-microbial resistance and improving biosecurity
  • target our initial priority endemic diseases – BVD in cattle and PRRS virus in pigs
  • tailor health investigations for sheep

What’s new (update July 2023)

We are working through the steps needed to get the endemic disease programmes ready to be delivered.

What’s next

Next steps will include further co-design and engagement with representatives of the cattle, sheep and pig sectors. The programmes may involve diagnostic testing, veterinary advice, vaccination, improvements to on-farm management or active management planning. As for the Review, financial support may be timebound and work in concert with a rising regulatory baseline where appropriate.

Farmers may be expected to take on some of the cost associated with taking effective action, recognising the benefit to their businesses from improved livestock health.

4. Payment by results (trialling in 2024, possibly transitioning to full-scale offer from 2025)

Payment by results is a new and innovative approach which could reward farmers who achieve higher animal health and welfare outcomes by contributing to the ongoing costs associated with higher welfare practices.

We are currently assessing which livestock farmers could be eligible and are considering those keeping dairy cattle, beef cattle, pigs, sheep, laying hens and meat chickens.

What’s new (update July 2023)

To help support progress on the priorities, our plan is to trial 2 initial offers in 2024:

  • for pigs: a 2-year trial incorporating both action-based payments and results-based bonuses to support farmers to take actions to improve the welfare of finishing pigs by reducing the stressors that pigs face, thereby reducing the incidence of tail biting

  • for cattle: support to enable vet led training for farmers on pain management best practice during disbudding and castration with potential follow-up payments to reward farmers who put this into practice

These voluntary offers have been co-designed with industry and vets to make sure that they are as effective as possible and attractive to farmers.

What’s next

Following the launch of the initial offers we expect to roll out additional offers to other sectors in following years.

Subscribe to the Farming blog to keep up to date on future announcements about these funding programmes.