Eight out of ten people agree that farm subsidies post-Brexit should be used to improve animal welfare, a RSPCA report has revealed.

The RSPCA proposes that the new farm support system, due to come into effect from next year, should be targeted at farmers who want to improve welfare but where there is currently no market incentive for them to do so.

At present, farm animals can legally be kept in barren, overcrowded and restricted spaces which can prevent or severely restrict their ability to carry out natural behaviours such as foraging, rooting or being active.

The RSPCA believes the new support system should reward farmers with public money only if they go beyond current standard industry practice on animal welfare.

If the government took up these proposals the RSPCA believes the UK would move towards world-leading welfare standards that deliver a genuinely competitive farming industry post-Brexit. As it currently stands, there is little or no financial support available for farms to lift their levels of animal welfare any higher than the minimum legal standards.

RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “This scheme would give farmers the financial leg-up they need towards much higher welfare production.

“Our proposals provide the practical details which governments are seeking to make their vision work. We have set out a highly workable two-tier proposal for farmers to be paid to invest in higher animal welfare standards while ensuring they are not undercut in any new trade deals. These proposals are based on the reality of available budgets and offer pragmatic, viable solutions to enforcement and comply with World Trade rules.

“Targeted incentives for farmers who need help improving animal welfare would be good for producers, good for consumers and good for animals.”

The scheme would be a two-tiered system designed to set farmers on a manageable ‘journey’ towards adopting higher farm animal welfare standards:

• Tier One is a 'transitional payment’ tier whereby payments would be awarded to producers for implementing measures, such as to build new, modern housing to meet higher welfare standards, and to implement programmes to improve animal health and welfare, as a first step towards meeting the higher, Tier Two criteria.

• Tier Two payments would be awarded to producers that are members of a higher welfare farm assurance scheme, such as RSPCA Assured. This would deliver higher standards of welfare covering the whole life of the animal and would be measured through welfare outcome assessments.

Among the recommendations in the report, the charity suggests how improving the welfare of farm animals in the UK can be tackled at relatively small cost. For example, £20 million a year could allow farmers to cover the costs of providing straw bedding to their pigs instead of them having fully slatted floors. This would help to reduce tail biting and lesions as well as provide enrichment for the animals.