Publication - Strategy/plan

Animal health and welfare in the livestock industry: strategy 2016 to 2021

The strategy was produced following wide consultation, setting out the high-level aims of the Scottish Government for animal health and welfare in Scotland.

27 page PDF

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27 page PDF

449.8 kB

Animal health and welfare in the livestock industry: strategy 2016 to 2021
Five Themes Underpinning the Strategy

27 page PDF

449.8 kB

Five Themes Underpinning the Strategy

23. A stakeholder working group (see Annex A for a list of members) identified five themes that need to be addressed to deliver improvements in animal health and welfare, and these are: skills and knowledge, disease risk, welfare, regulatory and societal impact. The actions stemming from those themes are set out in the following paragraphs.

Skills and Knowledge

24. Improvements to farm processes such as system design and proactive health planning, including vaccine programmes and targeted biosecurity, are of increasing importance. Livestock managers will need to develop these while coping with the challenges posed by economic pressures and an ageing, and declining, farm workforce [18] . In addition, the structure of the industry is changing with an increasing number of smallholders and hobby farmers [19] .

25. Adjusting to these challenges will require:

25.1. Establishing closer links between delivery of health and welfare objectives and the funding available through the SRDP;

25.2. Looking for new ways to reach farmers, including hobby farmers and smallholders, with information and advice;

25.3. Assessing the extent of the relationships between health, welfare and profitability, and communicating that link to livestock keepers in a meaningful way to encourage the development of better systems on farm; and

25.4. Looking at the ways in which research priorities are set.

Scottish Rural Development Programme

26. The current Scottish Rural Development Programme [20] was approved by the European Commission in May 2015, with a budget of over £1.3 billion to deliver on its priorities. It will help create vibrant rural communities, protect and enhance our environment, support rural businesses, and help the farming industry to grow and modernise.

27. It is one of the levers that the Scottish Government can use to encourage behaviour that will enhance animal health and welfare.

28. Improving the industry's skill base and encouraging new talent to flourish is central to the Scottish Government's objective of increasing sustainable economic growth. The SRDP programme that began in 2015 will include budgetary provision for a Scottish Farm Advisory Service that will:

28.1. Provide general advice on, for example, animal welfare, prevention of pollution and cross‑compliance;

28.2. Advise and assist small farms and crofts;

28.3. Deliver specialised advice and mentoring for new entrant young farmers;

28.4. Advise on improving business efficiency and effectiveness; and

28.5. Help producers to identify improvements that benefit the environment and combat climate change.

29. The SRDP also includes an opportunity for the industry to develop proposals and apply for contributory funding towards initiatives designed to promote innovation, skills development and knowledge transfer.

Action 1: The Scottish Government will ensure the new Farm Advisory Service promotes advice on all aspects of animal health, welfare and legislative requirements

Knowledge Exchange

30. Extensive research has already been undertaken on the link between animal health and profitability [21] . Although producers are well aware of the commercial benefits of healthy animals, the challenge is to ensure the communication of new and cost effective knowledge to the widest audience possible. This will require identifying the best options for reaching different audiences and tailoring messages accordingly. The Scottish Agricultural and Rural Advisory Service SRUC through the Veterinary and Advisory Services Programme [22] and Quality Meat Scotland's [23] ( QMS) knowledge transfer network (which includes the Monitor Farms Programme) are such vehicles for disseminating advice which both protects animals and enhances efficiency.

31. The Scottish Government and its partners already reach out to producers using a variety of media. However, it is important to build on that work to ensure that the benefits of improved animal health to producers and consumers is emphasised when appropriate.

32. The Scottish Government welcomes industry initiatives such as Livestock Health Scotland that strengthen communication and collaboration across the production chain to improve animal health and welfare.

Action 2: The Scottish Government with work with partners to review the effectiveness of communications on animal health and welfare and make recommendations as necessary.


26. A research programme linked to effective knowledge exchange, advice and training is also essential to the livestock sector. Government can support research that might not be funded by the private sector but which, nonetheless, could provide a long term public good. It is clearly important that such research relates to the day to day needs of the industry. To achieve this the Scottish Government's, Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division ( RESAS), consults livestock industry stakeholders during the commissioning of its research.

33. The Scottish Government has maintained long-term investment in Scotland's capability and capacity in land-based science and currently the Scottish Government invests around £57 million annually in research into rural affairs and the environment. This funding supports long-term, goal oriented programmes focussed on complex but solvable problems that link to knowledge exchange work and maintain and develop the skills and expertise that may be needed in a disease outbreak.

34. Of the total, over £10 million is spent on animal science, including research on livestock genetics, product quality, animal health and welfare , and sustainable livestock systems The purpose of these programmes is to reduce the burden of disease, secure a safe supply of high quality food from the livestock industries in Scotland and to improve efficiency while managing environmental impacts and animal welfare [24] .

35. The Scottish Government was also involved in 'Animal and Plant Health in the UK: building our science capability' [25] . This initiative was aimed at setting the strategic direction and priorities for UK animal and plant health science and also to ensure the UK has the science capability (in the provision of research, evidence and laboratory services) to underpin best practice management over the next 10-15 years. As part of the UK Science Partnership for Animal and Plant Health we are taking this work forward and the output from the project can be used to inform the Scottish position.

Action 3: The Scottish Government will ensure that the livestock and ancillary industries continue to have regular opportunities to contribute to both the setting of priorities for the research programme and the commissioning of relevant one off research projects.

Disease Risk

36. The risk of incursion by a notifiable (or statutory) exotic animal disease is always present. To deal with that threat the Scottish Government has put in place a system for responding to suspect cases, identifying disease, and dealing with outbreaks if they occur. The pillars underpinning that system include a legal requirement to report suspicion of a notifiable disease, surveillance arrangements, a detailed agreement between the Scottish Government and the Animal and Plant Health Agency ( APHA), a partnership approach to tackling disease and systems for monitoring wildlife and imports. Defra also provides international disease monitoring for the UK coupled with a system for alerting stakeholders to new and emerging threats.

37. In addition, regular exercises take place that involve stakeholders and other UK administrations to test and hone Scotland's response to disease. The most recent, Exercise Walnut, in 2013 tested the UK's ability to deal with an outbreak of classical swine fever.


38. The Scottish Government provides annual funding, through its Veterinary and Advisory Services Programme, of around £ 5 million to SRUC and the Moredun Research Institute ( MRI) to provide scanning disease surveillance services, such as post mortems. Surveillance is delivered by the network of disease surveillance centres operated by SRUC, with specialist support from the MRI. A Strategic Management Board with independent members from the livestock and veterinary industry as well as public health representatives has been set up to advise the Scottish Ministers on surveillance policy.

Animal and Plant Health Agency

39. In Scotland, delivery of many elements of animal health and welfare policy, and in particular the response to a disease outbreak, is through the Animal and Plant Health Agency ( APHA) [26] , which is an Executive Agency of Defra that acts on behalf of Scottish Ministers in Scotland.

40. The Scottish Government's relationship with both Defra and APHA is governed by a concordat agreed at Ministerial level. A detailed Memorandum of Understanding, backed by an annual budget of over £12 million, underpins the concordat and ensures that APHA delivers a service tailored to Scotland's needs.

41. Discussions are underway with, amongst others, Defra and the Welsh Government to consider how best to deliver animal health and welfare policy in future. The Scottish Government's priority in those discussions will be to retain a system that can deliver services under normal conditions and respond quickly and effectively to a disease outbreak.

Action 4: The Scottish Government will review its governance of APHA's activities in Scotland so as to ensure that Scottish Government delivers an effective service to the people of Scotland.

Borders and Wildlife

42. Wild animals, including game species and feral populations of once domesticated, introduced or escaped animals, can be a reservoir for disease. There are arrangements for monitoring both large and small game as well as other wild birds and mammals. Where appropriate these systems utilise the skills of trained hunters and game dealers and are designed to pick up notifiable disease as soon as practicable. Contingency planning for notifiable disease takes into account the potential for wild animals to have a role of in disease transmission and considers possible arrangements for control in wildlife.

43. Imports of animals and animal products can also be a source of disease. The Scottish Government, APHA, Border Force (part of the Home Office [27] ) and local authorities each have a part to play in implementing and enforcing strict international trade legislation to reduce the risk of animal disease from imports.

Action 5: The Scottish Government, in conjunction with partners, will review existing monitoring of wildlife and imports to ensure that they are effective.

44. Another important area that is a potential source of disease is the collection, treatment, use and disposal of animal by-products. This is a tightly regulated area with limited scope for change, however it is an area kept under review to identify possible improvements to the regulatory and enforcement regime as well as the livestock sector's contribution to waste management.

Endemic Disease

45. Although exotic disease outbreaks can have serious consequences they only occur from time to time. The impact of non-statutory endemic diseases is less dramatic, but they can, nonetheless, reduce profitability by seriously diminishing animal health and welfare, reducing the quality and quantity of produce and requiring significant veterinary input.

46. The Scottish Government has already, in conjunction with stakeholders, begun to tackle endemic diseases that are particularly serious, and has:

46.1. Worked with the Scottish livestock industry to develop the on-going eradication scheme for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea, an insidious disease of cattle that reduces health, welfare and profitability. The Scottish eradication scheme has already resulted in a reduction in the proportion of beef herds exposed to BVD from 40% in 2009 to 12% in 2016. This reduction has been achieved by encouraging producers to remove BVD from their herds through testing ( initially voluntary then compulsory), and bringing in legislation that controls cattle movements and requires declaration of the BVD status of an animal or herd at sale. Alongside these steps there has been considerable effort to promote knowledge exchange and to provide advice and training to veterinary practitioners and farmers [28] . Scotland's approach to tackling BVD will serve as a model for campaigns to deal with other diseases;

46.2. Achieved OTF status (that is, Scotland is officially free of bovine tuberculosis ( bTB)) through maintaining surveillance, imposing a system of pre‑ and post‑movement checks on cattle brought from high risk areas within the UK. Moreover, animals imported directly from other Member States, such as the Republic of Ireland, may be slaughtered at the owner's expense if they are found to be infected with bTB on arrival in Scotland; and

46.3. Addressed, at the request of industry, sheep scab by making it a notifiable disease. This has allowed the identification of areas where there are particular risks or where there may be no sheep scab. Consequently, industry now has the option of considering action to ensure that sheep scab is not allowed to spread to areas or islands that have been identified as free from the disease.

47. These are significant successes at a national level. However, tackling endemic diseases at farm level through common sense measures such as improved biosecurity, careful sourcing of stock and good animal husbandry can have spin‑off benefits. These include improving the quality of produce, improving profitability and reducing the likelihood of an incursion by an exotic disease, or limit its impact if there is an outbreak. The Scottish Government is therefore keen to continue to work with industry to promote farm-level actions to reduce the incidence of endemic disease.

Action 6: The Scottish Government will use the best available evidence to initiate a discussion with stakeholders on the next stage of tackling disease in Scotland.


The Link between Health and Welfare

48. Animal health and welfare are inextricably linked - anything that causes disease inevitably reduces an animal's welfare. In addition, chronic stress due to environmental factors can compromise the immune system leading to increased vulnerability to disease. Best practice in health can therefore often lead to improvements in welfare, and vice versa.

49. The link between health and welfare is one reason why the Scottish Government has previously supported the preparation of veterinary health and welfare plans through the SRDP land management option programme. The Scottish Government will continue to work with industry and researchers to tackle the causes of poor health, such as endemic disease. However setting priorities for future action needs to take into account the welfare of animals as well as other considerations, for example, low-grade lameness in sheep may not be of immediate commercial concern, but it has the potential to affect significant numbers of Scottish sheep.

Reasons for Change

50. There is a growing public interest in animal welfare and this is a powerful incentive to improve animal welfare. This has been recognised by the European Union, which in recent years has instigated changes to farm animal welfare legislation, for example the banning of sow crates and of barren cages for hens, and the introduction of new rules on the slaughter of animals. However the pace with which new measures are adopted can vary across Europe. In some areas, for example welfare during transport, while further improvements could potentially be made to the legislation, it has been recognised that improving the enforcement of existing legal standards has the greatest potential for improving animal welfare across the European Union.

51. Traditionally, livestock welfare has been assessed on key inputs, for example diet, accommodation and the provision of veterinary care. The European Union is increasingly encouraging the use of objective outcome-based measures, for example in quality assurance schemes and retailers' product specifications, to demonstrate that the consumer demand for ethical and quality produce has been met. This is an approach that could be further developed in the context of the Scottish livestock industry.

Welfare Working Group

52. A way forward is required that maximises the quality of life for Scottish livestock by building on our excellent research base and utilising the dedication of Scottish farmers to livestock welfare. Improvements will ultimately only be delivered by the producers who directly look after livestock, but they can be supported by the Scottish Government, researchers, industry, enforcement agencies and animal welfare organisations working together to identify problems, develop and spread best practice and, where appropriate, update animal welfare legislation, codes and guidance.

53. To bring together producer organisations and other interests the Scottish Government has set up a working group that will:

53.1. Explore the relationship between farm animal welfare and health;

53.2. Consider the opportunities for promoting outcome based measures in different sectors; and

53.3. Assess the main welfare challenges facing the terrestrial livestock sector in Scotland and make recommendations on how those challenges could be addressed.

Terms of reference for the group are at Annex B.

Action 7: The Welfare Working Group will continue to make recommendations on how best to promote animal health and welfare, including suggestions for further research and voluntary initiatives.

Regulatory Impact

54. Reducing unnecessary regulation of the agriculture industry is an important objective for Scottish Government. The Doing Better Initiative to Reduce Red Tape in Agriculture carried out by Brian Pack OBE [29] was a response to this objective. 61 recommendations resulted and the vast majority have been formally accepted by Government [30] . Implementation is being driven forward by The Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment ( RAFE) Delivery Board which was set up in 2015. Scottish Ministers will also seek to reduce the burden of European livestock regulations by arguing Scotland's good animal health record and disease-free status should be recognised.

Action 8: The Scottish Government will seek to reduce Europe's regulatory burden in recognition of Scotland's good animal health record and disease-free status.


55. Enforcing legislation is an important part of regulation. Farming organisations have argued that having a number of bodies overseeing animal health and welfare, including industry assurance bodies, local authorities, APHA and Scottish Government checks on cross‑compliance is both unnecessary and burdensome.

56. The existing division of responsibilities can also make it difficult to assemble evidence where suspected infringements are particularly complex or cross several local authority boundaries.

57. However, the devolution of animal health budgets in 2011 has given the Scottish Government the opportunity to review the way in which livestock animal health and welfare regulations are delivered, with a view to streamlining and improving the existing system.

Action 9: The Scottish Government will work with APHA, local authorities and other partners to review the current approach to enforcing livestock animal health and welfare regulation, and will make proposals for improvements.


58. Good livestock traceability (ie identification, registration and movement recording) allows prompt identification of the locations where an animal affected by disease has been, how long it was there and so enables an assessment of the spread of infection.

59. The traceability requirements for cattle, sheep and pigs are set by the European Union. They are an important part of cross-compliance checks and provide consumer confidence and help maintain export markets by allowing tracing of animals through the production chain. Systems for traceability are moving, as far as possible, toward real-time information, individual identities and use of self-refinement and data sharing.

60. Although the primary function of traceability is disease control and public health, the collection of data on locations of births, timing of subsequent moves and slaughter represents an opportunity for the industry and supply chain. Accurate information about an animal's history can help buyers make better informed decisions and may allow sellers to charge a premium for sales with a full background, including health and welfare status.

61. Similarly, particularly for high value produce, the more information that can be sent back up the supply chain the better able producers are to adjust their production systems. For example, if producers can be told about the quality of the meat post slaughter they may be able to make changes that enhance the quality of animals sent to the abattoir or address specific welfare concerns highlighted by the condition of the carcass . Retailers would also have a greater confidence in the traceability of meat, thus providing greater assurance to customers.

62. The free flow of data about animals depends on a number of factors including technology, legal constraints and industry and public buy‑in. These constraints mean that devising an economical system that delivers relevant information to each part of the supply chain will be difficult, but doing so would bring significant benefits to producers, retailers and consumers. The recent legislation on bovine electronic identification ( EID), together with the progress that has been made with the Scot EID [31] system for sheep and pig movement reporting and BVD control, is an opportunity to improve the information available to producers and others by adding additional data and analysis to the basic legislative requirements.

Action 10: The Scottish Government in conjunction with partners will review animal traceability with a view to strengthening and enhancing the current system of traceability to benefit health, welfare, meat quality and environmental gains along the entire supply chain.

Societal Impact

63. Animal health and welfare are not topics that can be considered in isolation. Animals, and how they are reared and kept, can have broader impacts, for example on the production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Similarly, as part of a food chain, the treatment of animals and animal diseases can have an impact on human health.

Antimicrobial Resistance

64. Antimicrobial resistance is a growing concern in both human and animal health. Overuse of antibiotics when treating animals is currently thought to have limited impact on antimicrobial resistance in humans. Nonetheless, unnecessary use of antibiotics could lower the efficacy of veterinary medicines in the longer term, with a possible reduction in animal health and welfare and an increased risk of disease. The Scottish Government is therefore a party to the UK's 5 Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy [32] and has convened an overarching policy group that includes human and animal health experts. As a result the Scottish Government is working with the industry and partners such as QMS and the MRI to provide advice and guidance to both farmers and veterinary practitioners, on the use of antibiotics in order to ensure that they remain effective.

65. In addition, SRUC carries out surveillance for antimicrobial resistance in conjunction with similar work carried out in England and Wales. This provides information to both veterinary practitioners (who can use it to benefit the animals under their care) and to government and other stakeholders.

Climate change

66. Animal health is also relevant to Scotland's ambitious climate change targets [33] . There is evidence that animal health status has a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions from livestock [34] . Dealing effectively with disease and avoiding production losses can, therefore, improve the biological efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint associated with animal products. This has been demonstrated on Climate Change Focus Farms in Scotland [35] . Other examples include the analysis of slurry, farmyard manure and other waste products that is now being used in conjunction with the analysis of soils to better target appropriate fertilizer application. This has helped to minimise pollution caused through the run-off of excess nutrients from farms into water courses.

67. There is also a very real risk that altered climatic conditions could compromise animal health, welfare and productivity, for example through changes in prevalence of disease and parasites, thermal stress and the changes in land use away from the production of livestock feedstuffs. Research carried out so far suggests that the average temperature increases predicted for Scotland will not adversely affect the majority of grazing animals, such as cattle and sheep, directly. However, the effects of extreme events, such as heat‑waves and severe storms are likely to have a greater impact [36] . Climate change has already had a demonstrable impact on the prevalence of a key livestock parasite. The increased number of liver fluke outbreaks in cattle and sheep in recent years has been attributed to climate change, with the parasites and their intermediate snail hosts thriving in warm, wet conditions [37] .


68. Biodiversity is important to Scotland's ecosystems. Not only do Scottish rural industries rely on the natural environment in order to maintain their business competiveness but Scotland depends on the quality of its natural environment in order to both produce and market high quality food. The 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity [38] published in 2013 encourages public organisations and businesses to review their responsibilities for, and action that affects, biodiversity, and recognise that by increasing their contribution to nature and landscapes can help meet their corporate priorities and maintain performance.

Action 11: The Scottish Government will continue to monitor the links between animal health and welfare, and wider societal and climatic concerns. Scottish Government will report regularly on developments.