THE WELSH GOVERNMENT issued a press release last week hailing its success in delivering 5,000 vaccinations against Bovine TB (bTB) in the Intensive Action Area against the disease in North Pembrokeshire, South Ceredigion, and North-West Carmarthenshire.
The press release read: ‘More than 5,000 doses of badger vaccination have been administered to animals inside the Intensive Action Area (IAA) in West Wales over the past four years. We are now half way through the fourth year of the Welsh Government’s five-year badger vaccination project in parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, which forms part of a wider programme of work to eradicate TB from cattle in Wales.
‘The Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, said: “Since 2010 we have introduced a number of additional measures in the IAA because it was identified as having some of the highest rates of incidence of TB in Europe.
“We are now half way through 2015’s round of the vaccination project and provisional results indicate we have successfully delivered over 5,000 doses of the vaccine in the IAA across the four years”.’
The statistics accompanying the summary were released at the same time.
The Herald delved into the data to establish what it told us about bTB rates and the effectiveness of the vaccination programme.
The history of bTB control
It is 55 years since the whole of the UK became attested on October 1, 1960. Each cattle herd was certified as being subject to regular tuberculin testing with immediate slaughter of any reactors. Progress was maintained throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
The ‘clean ring strategy’ was a badger culling strategy introduced in 1982. It involved cage trapping badgers on land occupied by affected cattle herds, then on adjoining land, expanding outwards until no further infected animals were captured. It was abandoned in 1986 as being non cost-effective.
Between 1986 and 1997, the UK Government pursued a strategy in which badgers were cage-trapped and shot. However, the strategy was only piecemeal, largely because of pressure from animal charities and single-issue pressure groups that meant that only badgers on land occupied by the affected herd would be culled.
Bearing in mind current claims that culling badgers is ineffective because of the proposition that badgers would simply leave the culling area to go to a neighbouring area, the methodology adopted between 1986 and 1997 in order to prevent wider scale slaughter of badgers appears both flawed and naïve: a strategy doomed to fail, and predictably so.
Culling in other countries
In New Zealand the success of culling the principal vector for the disease, the possum, has been markedly successful.
In 1990 the proportion of TB in cattle was about 7 times greater than it was in Great Britain. However in 1997 the proportions were about equal. By 2011, the proportion in New Zealand is about 40 times less than what it is in Great Britain.
Since the early nineties, control of the principal wildlife vector, the possum has increased whilst in Great Britain since 1986 control of the principal wildlife vector, the badger, has reduced.
The method of culling in Ireland relies on the use of snares and the subsequent shooting of trapped badgers. That method, widely condemned as cruel, is expressly forbidden in the UK. The effectiveness of the range of bTB measures – including culling – adopted in Ireland has driven rates of bTB infection in herds to their lowest ever level.
Bovine TB figures have, however, also fallen in Northern Ireland, were no licensed culling has taken place. That fact has been alighted upon by those opposed to a cull as evidence of the ineffectiveness of shooting badgers in order to control bTB. However, bTB rates are still substantially higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland: in 2013 6.4 per cent of cattle herds tested positive in Northern Ireland compared to 3.8 per cent south of the border.
As might be ruefully observed, the validity of statistical evidence and the science deployed by those on either side of the culling debate is likely to remain subjective and views remain entrenched. Wildlife and animal charities will continue to deride culling, while those who deal with the personal and economic fallout of bTB will favour it.
The Welsh decision
It was against the background of apparent comparative success of culling in other countries that the Welsh Government decided to begin a five year vaccination trial in West Wales and worth recalling that the Welsh Government embarked upon a vaccination programme as very much a second preference.
In 2012, Welsh Labour abandoned a previous policy, formed in coalition with Plaid Cymru, which supported a badger cull and decided to pursue a policy of vaccination. In doing so, it was criticised by the then Chair of the British Veterinary Association for ignoring scientific evidence supporting a cull and accused of ‘cowardice’ in the face of a celebrity-backed campaign against the cull and pressure from animal charities.
The decision not to proceed was described as a betrayal of farmers whose herds remain affected by the reservoir of bTB in the wild badger population.
But what, it is fair to ask, is the Welsh Government’s ‘Plan B’?
What if the data suggests that vaccination is no more effective than doing nothing?
A farmer’s experience
The Herald spoke to one farmer, who provided his observations on life in the IAA on condition of strict anonymity.
The farmer told us: “My dairy herd has suffered from bTB for 12 years. In 2012, badgers began to be vaccinated in the area, along with strict cattle control.
“I, like many farmers find this to be a costly exercise which doesn’t reach the root of the problem, the over population of badgers in the area.
“The stricter cattle controls and improved biosecurity measures also brought in in the IAA looks to move the blame of bTB onto the farmers, which is unfair.
“Because of the desperation I face with losing cattle to slaughter because of bTB and falling milk prices, I am left with no alternative but to shoot badgers which are on my land. “This is a population control measure and I take no pleasure in the culling of an animal. It’s either the badger or my cattle, and for the sake of my family and my income, it’s the badger.”
Data and dates During the vaccination programme the absolute incidence of bTB has fallen markedly, with numbers of affected cattle falling. One key piece of data is not encouraging when it comes to weighing the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. In the period immediately preceding the vaccination programme the incidence bTB had fallen even more sharply.
Bovine TB cases had climbed sharply over the years to 2008/09, topping out at 29% per hundred head of cattle in the IAA that year. The rate of detected infection in the last full year in the most recent Welsh Government report (2014/15) shows that infection rates remain above where they were in 2006/2007, when they were at around 16% and that in the current control area was 8%.
After an initial increase in incidence following the introduction of interventions in the IAA, incidence has been decreasing since 2011/12. Incidence has also decreased in the Control Area (CA) in the last year, halving from 12 % to 6 %. In 2013/14, there were three times as many new bTB incidents per 100 unrestricted herds in the IAA (18 %) than in the CA (6 %,).
That means that the gap in the incidence of positive tests in the control area, where no vaccinations have been trialled, and the Intensive Action Area where they have has widened over the course of the vaccination programme. From the start of the IAA in 2010/11, and historically judging by the Welsh Government’s own data, the ratio had been around two to one. While one would expect the gap to narrow if vaccination were more effective that not vaccinating, the gap between the incidence in the IAA and the control area has widened.
We asked the Welsh Government about the issue the above analysis presented. A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “The downward trend in levels of bovine TB in the Intensive Action Area is encouraging and is broadly in line with the trend seen in other parts of Wales. We know that it may take years to fully see the benefits of some of our additional measures in the area, which includes six monthly testing and badger vaccination. Therefore it is too soon to draw any conclusions on the effectiveness of the measures in the IAA.”
New HCC Chair appointed
WALES’ Minister for Rural Affairs last week announced the upcoming appointment of a new Chair at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).
Catherine Smith, a board member of HCC since 2017, will take over from incumbent Chair Kevin Roberts on April 1, 2021.
Catherine is a food business consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in the red meat sector in procurement, processing and manufacturing. She is also a farmer’s daughter and wife, who lives with her husband and three children on a mixed farm in Monmouthshire.
She will be the first woman to take on the role since the formation of HCC in 2003.
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, announced the appointment on Wednesday, February 3.
The Minister said: “I would like to congratulate Catherine Smith for her upcoming appointment to the role of Chair at Hybu Cig Cymru – and would also like to thank outgoing Chair Kevin Roberts for all his work in the role.
“Catherine brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked within the red meat supply chain for two decades and served as a board member since 2017.
“I am very pleased to be able to announce Catherine as the incoming Chair, particularly given she will be the first woman to come into the role – and I hope her appointment reflects wider trends in business across Wales, especially within the agricultural sector.
“She comes into the role at an especially difficult time, with the red meat sector responding both to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the complexity brought about as a result of the recent end of the EU transition period.”
Catherine said “Having grown up in a farming family, and worked in the food sector for twenty years, I’m very proud to be appointed as Chair of Hybu Cig Cymru.
“My priority will be to deliver for our levy-payers; farmers and processors. This will mean building our red meat brands using inventive and effective marketing, helping our industry to be as profitable as possible, and aiming to lead the world in terms of quality and sustainability.
“HCC has responded to the challenges of EU transition and the Covid-19 pandemic with flexibility, determination and innovation. Building on these strengths the organisation will continue to deliver on the priorities set out in Vision 2025 and support the industry to build its profitability and resilience whilst working closely with Welsh Government and all stakeholders within the supply chain.”
Kevin Roberts, outgoing Chair of HCC, said: “The past few years have certainly had their challenges from issues outside our control.
“I’m proud of the way HCC has responded, growing exports of Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef significantly despite the uncertainty of Brexit, and playing its part in driving a major growth in domestic retail sales to help both farmers and consumers during the COVID pandemic. This has come about with the help of a lot of hard work from Gwyn Howells and his team of staff.
“I wish Catherine well in taking over as Chair during the next exciting period for our sector. Some uncertainties remain, but as we look to the future our brands are very strong; we’re offering what consumers want – high-quality food, traceable right back to the farm, and world-leading credentials in terms of environmental and welfare standards.”
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “I’d like to congratulate Catherine Smith on her appointment as the new Chair of HCC and thank Kevin Roberts for his work and leadership over the past four years.
“Catherine will be taking over at a pivotal time for the red meat sector in Wales as we seek a global market for our products, following our departure from the EU. Welsh red meat is a world-leader in both its quality and sustainability credentials and marketing these strengths, to a global audience, in new and innovative ways, must be a priority for the board.
“Covid-19 has presented unique challenges but also huge opportunities for our products. Consumers’ favourability towards the agricultural industry has never been higher and the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for a constant supply of high-quality food to our customers. As we leave the CAP and design new policies made here in Wales, we need to ensure that we develop a comprehensive food and farming policy. This policy must have an ambition for growth that allows us to capitalise on these great credentials in both our domestic and export markets, in order to deliver a vibrant and prosperous future for everyone involved in the red meat sector in Wales.
“I would like to thank Kevin for his sterling work on behalf of the Welsh red meat industry, being at the helm of the HCC board at a time of unprecedented uncertainty brought upon by Brexit. Throughout his time with HCC Kevin has overseen the publication of the organisation’s Vision 2025 strategy and just recently the Welsh Way document, a strong and robust evidence base to further build our sector as a global leader in sustainability.
“We look forward to working closely with Catherine to ensure HCC delivers for levy-payers across Wales.”
Farming bodies slam ‘narrow-thinking’ WG
WALES’ farming unions and Wales’ YFC have written to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to express concerns around the future direction of Welsh agricultural policy, following the publication of the Agriculture (Wales) White Paper.
In a show of unity, NFU Cymru, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) and Wales YFC called upon the Minister, Lesley Griffiths MS, to pause and reconsider what a future policy should deliver for the people of Wales.
The three organisations have raised concerns that little has changed over three consultation processes and there remains a lack of ambition for the future of farming in Wales.
The letter states ‘the direction of travel proposed does not appear to reflect the uniqueness of Welsh farming, built around family farms delivering for our economy, our landscape, language and culture. Instead, and most worryingly, it looks as though we are implementing a policy based on a very narrow definition of public goods, policy thinking very similar to what we have seen emanating from elsewhere, rather than a policy ‘Made in Wales’.’
In a joint statement, NFU Cymru and FUW said: “Welsh farming is at a significant crossroads. The decisions taken by policymakers in the coming months will shape and impact the sector for generations to come. Leaving the EU has given us the opportunity within Wales to put together an ambitious policy that enables Wales to lead the way, securing the supply of safe, high-quality affordable food for all in society, delivering jobs and prosperous rural communities, all while enhancing the environment for the benefit of all.
“We have throughout this process recognised and embraced the need for change in the belief that the main opportunity from Brexit was to develop an agricultural policy in Wales for Wales that had its people, the land they farm, and the food they produce at its heart. Collectively we are ambitious for Wales and passionately believe that our sector can play a leading role in the major challenges facing society, not least climate change, all whilst feeding an ever-growing population with the highest quality food and drink produced by the best farmers in the world. Put simply our ambition is for Wales to be recognised as a world-leading country of excellence for climate-friendly farming and food production.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to get this right and enable rural Wales, its people, communities, language, landscape and environment to thrive and as such we urge you to reconsider the direction of travel and work with us to develop a policy that is ambitious and enables us to reach our potential.”
Katie Davies, Wales YFC Chairman, said: “Thousands of young people from across Wales are desperate to forge a career within Welsh agriculture, supporting food and farming. It is imperative that we work together to find a way forward that is both ambitious and creates opportunities for the next generation.”
The White Paper, which stands no chance of getting on the statute book before May’s election, hails the Welsh Government’s consultations with stakeholders. Which stakeholders the Welsh Government has consulted with is not identified in the White Paper. However, the text shows no signs of addressing long-standing concerns about the Welsh Government’s drive to marginalise farmers in favour of voices more congenial to its metropolitan base.
Janet Finch-Saunders MS, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs, praised the letter.
She said: “Farming and agriculture is in the DNA of Wales. Despite the pressures the sector faces even in the best of years, it’s still a big draw for many young people, and a major contributor to the Welsh economy.
“Years of Labour’s mismanagement of the sector based on viewing Wales through the prism of Cardiff Bay led to this letter. I must agree with the NFU, the FUW, and Wales YFC when they say the direction of travel proposed by the Labour Government does not appear to reflect the uniqueness of Welsh farming.
“Labour also seems to be hell-bent on policy ideas that are not ‘Made in Wales’, but ‘Made in Cardiff Bay for Cardiff Bay’.
“In short, the letter is an indictment of years of Labour’s mismanagement of the agricultural sector, a sector like all others that will need specific and thoughtful future policymaking now we have exited the EU, and are looking towards a post-pandemic recovery.
“One thing is clear: recovery for agriculture and other sectors will not come from Labour, but from a Welsh Conservative Government as ambitious and dynamic as the agricultural sector.”
Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences
On 6 January 2021, at Aberystwyth Justice Centre the Magistrates passed sentence on Mr. Toby Holland of Maesgwyn, Blaenporth after he was found guilty in his absence of 10 charges relating to Animal Welfare and Animal By-Products offences.
Following the trial on 3 February 2020, a court warrant was issued for Mr. Toby Holland’ arrest in connection with these offences, and he was arrested by Police in December 2020.
The District Judge, in the trial held on 3 February 2020 heard that Animal Welfare Officers of the Public Protection team visited the farm on the 29 January 2019 and found a number of animal welfare issues. A sheep was found to be lying on its back unable to move and it was evident that it had been there for some time. Despite requesting that Mr. Holland seek veterinary assistance for the animal, a visit the following day had found that he failed to seek treatment for the animal and left it to die. He was found guilty for the unnecessary suffering of this sheep.
The Animal Welfare Officers found a barn containing 19 pigs. On seeing the officers the pigs were shrieking for food. The pigs were very thin and kept in an accumulation of muck with no dry lying area available. Within the pen were two dead pigs to which the live pigs had access. A post-mortem of one of the dead pigs found that the animal had likely died of starvation after finding no fat reserves remaining in the carcass.
The Veterinarian from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who attended the farm concluded that both the dead and live pigs had been suffering unnecessarily, and Mr. Holland was found guilty of these offences. He was also found guilty of failing to meet the needs of the animals, by failing to provide a dry lying area for the pigs.
The visit on 29 January 2019 also found a number of sheep carcasses strewn across the fields. It was clear that that they had been there for some time, and the live sheep had access to the same field. The District Judge found Mr. Holland guilty of failing to dispose of the carcasses in accordance with the requirements of a notice served under The Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Wales) Regulations 2014.
A follow up visit on 30 May 2019 found the pigs were kept in a field where they had access to plastic bags, metal sheeting with sharp edges, and animal bones and skulls. These items could cause harm to pigs, and he was found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of not providing a suitable environment for the pigs. Tthere were sheep carcasses in the fields, that Mr. Holland failed to collect and dispose in accordance with legal requirements. He was found guilty of a further offence under the Animal By-Products Regulations.
He was sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment in total for the offences, and he was issued a disqualification order for 2 years from keeping any animals. The Local Authority were awarded £750 costs.
Following sentencing, Cllr Gareth Lloyd, Cabinet member for Public Protection Services, said: “The majority of farmers in Ceredigion have excellent farming practices, that ensures the highest standards of animal welfare. Unfortunately we must deal with a minority who for whatever reason fail to meet basic legal standards. I wish to thank the partner agencies who assisted the authority in the investigation, and the officers for their hard work in handling a difficult case.”
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