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Poultry: Factory Farming

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 6702, tabled on 23 May 2022

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if his Department will make an assessment of the implications for its policies of the Dispatches programme broadcast on 29 November 2021 entitled, The truth about your chicken; and if he will make a statement.

Answered on

1 June 2022

The Government’s view is that farms of all sizes have a role to play in UK agriculture and food production. What is important is not the size of the farm but compliance with our robust domestic standards. Well-established enforcement strategies are in place to ensure compliance with animal health and welfare requirements. Stockmanship is key and farmers of meat chickens are required to be competent and trained in the tasks that they perform.

This Government will continue to take steps to regulate farming practices proportionately and effectively, to safeguard animal welfare, reduce the risk of zoonotic disease and reduce risks to human health. We are making improvements to the existing legal framework and enforcement regime to ensure greater compliance and enhance the health and welfare of farmed animals. We are also working in partnership with the livestock sector and a wide range of academics, non-Governmental organisations and other experts to implement the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, supporting continuous improvement in farm animal health and welfare.

The Government has no role to play in setting standards for any independent farm assurance scheme.

Defra is a co-signatory with the Department of Health and Social Care of the UK’s Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) National Action Plan, and the UK is a global leader on AMR. We do not support the unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals, or farming practices which rely on routine or predictable antibiotic use. However, antibiotics play a role in treating certain animal diseases and are therefore essential to ensure the health and welfare of animals.

Data collected by the British Poultry Council (BPC), which represents 90% of the meat poultry sector, show that antibiotic use in broiler chickens has reduced by 67% since 2014. This has been driven by the BPC’s Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme, which is based on the principle of reducing, refining and replacing the use of antibiotics and promoting best practice at all steps of production.

The goal of reducing antibiotic consumption and improving stewardship is to reduce antibiotic resistance. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate has been measuring levels of antibiotic resistance in E. coli in poultry since 2014, and the results show that resistance in broiler chickens has decreased substantially, including to antibiotics that are critically important to human health.

The Government is aware of the contribution of faecal contamination, primarily from poultry manure, to the health of the river Wye. Over 60% of the phosphate load in the Wye Catchment is from diffuse agricultural pollution from livestock manure and nutrients washing into the river during rainfall.

The Government is working closely with local stakeholders to address the Wye’s specific situation, both through supporting the local Nutrient Management Board, as well as working towards strategic solutions for both the short-term unblocking of housing and the long-term improvement of the local environment through a cross-government Taskforce. To support this, there are also a host of national actions coming online to address agricultural pollution, which include:

  • further investment in the successful Catchment Sensitive Farming programme;
  • an expansion of Environment Agency enforcement capacity and funding;
  • several grants and incentives aimed to support better farm practises and local recovery;
  • a review of current regulatory measures.

Red Tractor is an industry-led farm assurance scheme. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the Government to comment on the implementation of its guidelines or individual cases. Meeting regulatory requirements is a vital component to bringing improvements to the local Wye catchment. If there are concerns that farmers are breaching regulations, they should be reported to the Environment Agency, which will work with local farmers to bring them into compliance.