Specially targeted farm subsidies could improve animal welfare to meet the government’s ambitions for the highest quality food standards post-Brexit, claims the RSPCA.

The animal charity’s proposals include ring-fenced funding for training, infrastructure and enrichment to improve animal welfare and financial support for farmers when market prices fall meaning higher welfare products are being sold at a loss to the farmer.

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “Paying farmers to achieve high animal welfare standards is a no-brainer. Farm subsidies targeted at animal welfare will be good for new trade deals, good for consumers and good for the animals.

“If post-Brexit farm support schemes include ring-fenced incentives for farmers to improve animal welfare, the government’s laudable ambitions for the UK to produce the highest quality food will be met. This, coupled with Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s newly announced comprehensive food labelling system which includes, amongst other things, indicators on animal welfare standards, would be the icing on the cake.

“As the UK leaves the EU and nationalises the farming support system this presents us with a once-in-a-generation chance to radically transform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) into a British policy for humane animal and sustainable land management.

“If we get it right now, the UK’s food quality can become the world’s gold standard - and that can only happen with the highest possible animal welfare.”

Although certain farming sectors such as laying hens are now able to command a premium price for their high welfare products, other sectors such as dairy and beef cows are not able to and would need financial help to improve their welfare standards.

The RSPCA identifies three funding areas that would help improve animal welfare while complying with world trade rules. The proposals are based on current EU farm subsidy amounts given to improve animal welfare and would be relatively straightforward to fund, as well as meeting World Trade Organisation rules. Support could include:

• Capital costs, including higher welfare training and improved housing of herds

• Ongoing production costs when market prices for higher welfare products would produce a financial shortfall (‘market failure’)

• Ongoing costs such as improving enrichment or providing access to pasture or straw

Three comprehensive European Commission polls over the past 12 years show that UK citizens want improvements in the food chain. These aspirations have translated into substantive buying patterns for certain products. For example, the number of laying hens under the RSPCA Assured scheme have risen from 24% in 2004 to over 51% of the UK flock in 2016 and for the first time at the end of 2017 over half the eggs sold in the UK were from non-caged eggs.

The RSPCA also welcomed Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s commitment to a much more comprehensive food labelling system that measures how a farmer or food producer performs against a number of indicators, including animal welfare.