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OFFICIAL! Competence gap down on the farm
Posted 15 June 2007
A new report* by the government’s official advisory body on farm animal welfare presents a picture of dramatically declining ‘stockmanship’ skills, with less than 1% of farm workers taking up training and certification opportunities. It is an apathy matched by the government and the livestock industry itself, whose support for training has ‘weakened considerably in recent years’.
The result, according to the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), is a ‘lack of formal training, and poor quality training’. And the instruction that is on offer often produces mere paper qualifications that do ‘not equate with competence in the work place’.
Given this dismal background, it is unsurprising that, as the FAWC report notes, there is no legal requirement for farm operators to produce ‘evidence regarding the competence of livestock keepers’.
The latest figures show that there are 292,000 stockmen employed in Great Britain. Some 60% of farm businesses are run by a single operator, says FAWC, with the average age of such farmers increasing. In 2005, for example, 18% of dairy farmers were aged over 65, while only 4% were younger than 35. There is an inability to attract and retain ‘good stockmen’ - a problem, according to FAWC, that ‘some pundits’ link to farming’s negative image caused by ‘major disease outbreaks and a disconnection between the producer and the marketplace’. Campaign groups that highlight and try to remedy animal suffering were also blamed for farming’s self-inflicted wounds.
Among the report’s recommendations are that the government take a positive message about farming to schoolchildren, which should include educational visits to livestock farms as part of the national curriculum.
Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:
‘Anyone who has a companion animal knows about the time, care and commitment that each of them demands. Farm animals have equivalent needs. Each is an individual, capable of feeling pain and stress just like a dog or a rabbit. Animal Aid promotes an animal-free diet but, given that some 1000 million animals are currently mass produced for slaughter every year in Britain, the picture painted by FAWC of farm worker incompetence, and government and industry apathy, is truly disturbing. The public is repeatedly told that British farm animal welfare standards are the best in the world. This new report by the government’s own official advisory body demonstrates that such claims are self-serving propaganda.’
*FAWC Report on Stockmanship and Farm Animal Welfare, June 2007