FOLLOWING a debate in the House of Commons, the attitude of Welsh politicians in the UK Parliament was thrown into sharp focus by comments made by both Conservative minister Guto Bebb and Wrexham’s Labour MP Ian Lucas.
It was Mr Lucas’ remarks which attracted the most notable reaction by Welsh politicians in the first instance.
He asked Mr Bebb: “Does the Minister agree that leaving the European Union offers a golden opportunity to assess the level of subsidy paid to farming in Wales to see whether that money can be more effectively and efficiently spent in other areas?”
The inference to be drawn from the question was crystal clear and was pounced upon by Plaid Cymru.
CALL FOR COMMITMENT ON AGRICULTURE
Carmarthenshire’s Jonathan Edwards MP, who was sitting in front of Ian Lucas MP in the Commons, called for Labour to urgently clarify whether it will cut financial support for Welsh farmers.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Simon Thomas, said: “Ahead of the Referendum, the people of Wales were promised that no funding would be lost by leaving the European Union. Since then, Plaid Cymru has made it our duty to fight to protect the funding that Wales receives, but Labour seems to view it as a chance for a smash and grab on Wales’ funding.
“We know that 80% of Welsh farms are dependent on European funding to support their businesses, but Labour has shown complete disregard for the interests of the people of Wales and its agriculture sector.
“Labour really has let the mask slip. Whilst Plaid Cymru is focusing on protecting the interests of Welsh communities, Labour is plotting to cut their funding.”
Mr Edwards said: “Labour’s blatant and worrying attack on Welsh agriculture is yet another sign that the Labour party simply does not understand the Welsh agriculture sector or the challenges faced by our rural communities.
“The Welsh family farm is not only a core component of the Welsh agricultural sector and the Welsh economy, but is the main channel through which we as a nation can achieve food and environmental security.
“This expression of contempt for our agricultural sector is utterly unjustified. Welsh farmers face tremendous financial challenges in selling their produce and Labour should be focusing their efforts on facilitating Welsh agricultural exports, rather than marking them as a target for austerity and cuts.
“The Labour MP’s constituency partner, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths, urgently needs to answer whether her constituency’s partner’s question reflects official Labour Party policy.”
FARMERS ARE ‘WEALTHY LANDOWNERS’
The Labour MP was unrepentant about his remarks and has gone on to further criticise the Welsh farming community, stated that Welsh farmers are ‘wealthy landowners’.
The Herald invited the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs to respond to her Westminster colleague’s remarks.
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government told us: “The First Minister made it clear to the Prime Minister earlier this week he is seeking assurances that Welsh farmers do not lose out financially as a result of Brexit. This means every penny currently received from the EU being replaced by the UK Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs also reiterated this to the UK Government’s Farming Minister.
“As we prepare to withdraw from the European Union, we must use the opportunity over the coming years to assess the specific needs of the farming industry in Wales and identify how we can forge distinctly Welsh policies that will enable Welsh farming to prosper in a post-Brexit world.”
‘NOT A PENNY LESS’
Welsh Liberal Democrat William Powell told The Herald: “In the economic conditions that we now face as a country, pressure on the public purse will be all the more acute. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are supporting the ‘Not a Penny Less’ campaign in terms of farm support, and this has proved popular on our stand at this year’s Royal Welsh Show.
“However, it is more important than ever for farmers to engage in the public debate, so that there is a better understanding of the vital contribution that they make as custodians of the land, in terms both of maintaining biodiversity, but also to the whole tourist sector, which we know is such a critical part of the wider rural economy.
“However, more important than anything for Welsh farming is securing long -term access to the European Single Market for our quality farm exports – and making that an essential element in the permanent post Referendum settlement. And with Andrea Leadsom MP’s comments about hill farmers ‘looking after the butterflies ’, betraying an evident lack of understanding and empathy for Welsh farming, it is vital that Wales retains a robust and distinct farming policy. Welsh Liberal Democrats will be fighting for this in the time to come.”
LABOUR INSULTS RURAL COMMUNITIES
Andrew RT Davies was trenchant in his criticism both of Mr Lucas and Lesley Griffiths: “These comments once again highlight Labour’s attitude towards rural communities, and it is remarkable that their MPs are actively lobbying to give less money to farmers.
“It follows comments from Leslie Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary who insulted Welsh farmers by suggesting that they don’t make good business owners. Now they want to take their money away.
“During the campaign, senior UK government ministers gave guarantees that Welsh farmers would not be worse off after the UK leaves the EU, and I will continue to work with those colleagues to ensure that those promises are delivered.”
THE LESS CERTAIN MR BEBB
However, an examination of Guto Bebb’s responses to Commons questions on Wales’ farming sector reveals a less certain picture.
The Undersecretary of State was questioned repeatedly on the impact of Brexit on the funding provided to Welsh farmers.
In response to Ian Lucas’s question, rather than giving a ringing ‘no’ and committing the UK Government to maintaining funding levels, Mr Bebb said (emphases added): “We need to look at the way in which Government spend money. IF there is to be a funding mechanism in the future for Welsh agriculture, it MUST BE LOOKED at in the totality of Government spending.”
That is some way short of promises made by senior UK Government ministers that Wales’ farmers would not be worse off.
And to further underline how conditional UK Government’s support is, responding to a question from Liz Saville-Roberts, Plaid’s MP for Dwyfor Meiryonnydd, the limited reassurance given was an ‘assurance to the farming unions that the current funding situation is in place until 2018’.
That echoed a previous response to Mark Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Ceredigion, in which the conditionality of UK Government support for Welsh agriculture was again underlined: “… The ongoing support for Welsh farming will be subject to agreements involving this Government, the way in which we exit the European Union and the decisions taken by the future Prime Minister.”
That is, again, a long way short of Andrew RT Davies’s reference to a promise that Welsh farmers would not be worse off.
The reluctance to commit to a definitive answer is striking, bearing in mind that in the same questions to the Welsh Office, Mr Bebb stated that: “The farming sector is the economic backbone of the Welsh rural economy. The total income from farming in Wales is estimated at more than £175 million, but more important is the contribution that Welsh agriculture makes to our rural communities.”
He also remarked that: “More than 60,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on the agriculture sector, and it would be short-sighted in the extreme for any Government to turn their back on a sector that puts Wales on the international map.”
‘FARMING IS WALES’ BEDROCK’
Speaking at the Royal Welsh Show last week, Glyn Roberts, President of the FUW, made a series of emphatic observations on the importance of Wales’s agricultural sector: “There are almost as many people engaged in the milk industry in Pembrokeshire as there are people making a living in our Welsh steel industry. Yet there is a clear imbalance in political focus for supporting these two very important industries – an imbalance which also extends to all our agricultural sectors.”
He added that his aspiration and, indeed, the intention of the Farmers’ Union of Wales is to change this.
“We want to see the value and importance of the rural economy truly recognised, and to build a visible and valued Rural Powerhouse – not something that attracts industrial focus in a small geographic area, like the north-east Wales ‘powerhouse’ built around foreign manufacturing; what is needed is recognition of the fact that 80% of our land mass is rural; that more than a third of Wales’ population live in rural areas; and that farming is the bedrock of our rural communities, without which vast direct and indirect contributions to Wales’ economy as a whole would disappear.”
Beacons inspire army of Swiss chefs
A TRIP to Wales has helped some of Switzerland’s leading chefs and restaurateurs create tasty new dishes with the finest Welsh Lamb.
PGI Welsh Lamb has been growing in popularity in top Swiss restaurants and hotels. The tour was arranged by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), in conjunction with a major food importer who added Welsh meat to its premium listings last year, in order to boost demand.
To help raise awareness of the provenance, quality and versatility of the meat, the tour included a visit to a farm in the Brecon Beacons, a guide to how the lamb is processed and a cutting demonstration by a master butcher, and a cooking display.
The Swiss restaurateurs enjoyed seeing how Welsh Lamb is produced in its natural environment, according to sheep and beef farmer Richard Roderick of Talybont-on-Usk. “It gives such confidence for chefs to see the low-intensity and high-welfare way in which the animals are reared, and that they’re fully traceable from farm to fork” said Richard.
“Hopefully the visit will inspire the chefs and their colleagues to use more meat from Wales in their restaurants!”
HCC’s agent in Central Europe, Patricia Czerniak, said that since re-establishing a foothold in the Swiss market recently, demand for PGI Welsh Lamb had increased substantially.
“Hotels, restaurants and tourism is big business in Switzerland, with chefs looking for high-quality ingredients,” said Patricia.
“Since they started to list Welsh Lamb last year, business with one foodservice importer has already doubled, and they’re looking to triple sales by the end of 2017. Bringing their clients and prospective customers to Wales can only help to boost this market.”
Patricia was also encouraged to see the chefs picking up new ideas through their visit.
“After the butchery demonstration, many of the chefs asked for new cuts to be made available, including offal such as livers and sweetbreads,” she said.
“The visitors included some of Switzerland’s top chefs, so we hope that their new Welsh Lamb creations will set a trend in the country.”
NFU-Cymru President’s New Year Message
I AM pleased that we end 2017 on a positive note, with UK and EU leaders agreeing to move on to Phase 2 of the UK Exit negotiations.
This phase, in which the transition deal and our future trading relationship with the EU is negotiated, is absolutely critical to the future prosperity of the food and farming sector in Wales.
I cannot stress highly enough the importance of maintaining continued free and frictionless access to our largest and most proximate market. We hear both UK and EU negotiators repeatedly use the words ‘clarity’ and ‘certainty’, and as farming businesses that is exactly what we want to see early in 2018 – clarity and certainty over the type of trading environment that we will be operating under come the end of March 2019.
In our view this should mean the UK remaining in the Customs Union until such time as a comprehensive free trade agreement can be agreed between the UK and EU.
I remain optimistic at the opportunity Brexit provides to develop, design and implement new policies that support our vision for a productive, progressive and profitable industry in Wales. This will ensure Welsh farming can continue to contribute to, and enhance, the economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being of Wales.
The speed of change to implement a new agricultural policy should be determined by our future relationship with the EU. Throughout this evolution to a new domestic agricultural policy, and thereafter, governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment in farming to ensure that Welsh farmers remain competitive whilst continuing to produce food to the highest standards.
The Nitrates Review and proposals to increase the areas of Wales designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) has been very high on our lobbying agenda for over two years now. I am pleased that Lesley Griffiths AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, has recently announced her intention to work with stakeholders to explore further options to safeguarding water quality in Wales. This means that no new NVZ designations will be introduced at this point in time – a huge relief to many farmers across Wales who have been highly concerned about the costs and burden of NVZ regulations.
I am very clear, however, that regulatory pressure still remains and the group charged with taking this task forward (the NRW Wales Land Management Forum Agri-Pollution Sub Group) will, over the coming months, consider the right balance of regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives and investment. As farmers, we recognise the role we have to play in contributing to further and sustained improvements in water quality in the years ahead and NFU Cymru remains fully committed to working with Welsh Government, the Regulator and other partners to deliver workable (non-regulatory) solutions.
The scale of this challenge must not be underestimated and I want to ensure that NFU Cymru has a robust structure in place to drive this forward. It is, therefore, my intention to establish an NFU Cymru Water Quality Task & Finish Group. The group will consist of members from across Wales, across all sectors and the wider supply chain, with the aim of shaping the NFU Cymru contribution to the work of the NRW Agri-Pollution Sub-Group and also working to secure the ‘buy-in’ and commitment of the wider farming community to a non-regulatory approach.
Last June the Cabinet Secretary announced a new TB programme for Wales, a programme that we see as a step forward given the recognition by Welsh Government of the transmission link between cattle and wildlife.
Bovine TB continues to be the subject that causes most frustration amongst our membership. The latest statistics show a year on year increase in herd incidence and herd prevalence in Wales and over 9,700 cattle slaughtered because of TB, so it is clear why cattle keepers believe this to be the biggest immediate threat to their farming businesses.
I am pleased that on these two vitally important issues to the agricultural sector in Wales in 2017 the Cabinet Secretary has made policy decisions based on scientific evidence. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the Cabinet Secretary and the newly appointed Minister for the Environment, Hannah Blythyn AM.
Our work in 2017 has sought to highlight the unrivalled contribution of farmers and farming to Welsh society. Our campaigns have highlighted how we are ‘Proud to Produce’ across so many areas; food, environment, landscape, heritage, culture, language and to the economy of Wales and our NFU Cymru Community Champion, Wales Woman Farmer, Dairy and Livestock awards have showcased the individuals and farming families behind this good work.
I am immensely proud of our contribution to the well-being of Wales and it is something that we must never lose sight of at what is a pivotal time for Welsh farming.
Pig keepers’ disease warning
PIG KEEPERS are being reminded not to feed kitchen scraps to their animals to prevent outbreaks of animal disease.
The warning comes after the risk of African swine fever entering the UK was raised over the summer following spread of the infection in Eastern and Central Europe.
There has never been a case of African swine fever in the UK and it does not affect humans, but it is potentially fatal to pigs. If the disease were to reach the UK it could have a devastating effect on our export market and would also mean the humane culling of pigs on infected premises to prevent further spread.
Keepers are being reminded that it is illegal to feed catering waste of any description or domestic food waste to farm animals in the UK, including pigs kept as pets, as some of the outbreaks of African swine fever in Europe have been attributed to wild boar or domestic pigs consuming contaminated pork or pork products. This includes food from vegetarian kitchens, as there is still a risk of cross contamination in products of animal origin such as milk.
Strict hygiene measures are essential in preventing disease – people should not take meat or meat products into areas where pigs are kept and should only eat food in designated areas such as staff rooms or the farm kitchen. Pig keepers, farm staff and anyone in contact with pigs should wash their hands before and after eating or preparing food.
UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: “The introduction of African swine fever would have an enormous impact on our pig industry. No matter how many pigs you keep, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of feeding waste food to your animals. Not only is it illegal, but you run the risk of spreading disease which could be fatal to your livestock.
“You can purchase a range of pig foods from your local agricultural merchant that can be safely fed to your pigs and which is the most reliable way of giving them a balanced diet. Good biosecurity is also essential for minimising disease risk, such as providing dedicated clothing and boots for workers and preventing vehicles which may be contaminated from entering pig premises.”
Wales’ Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop said: “African Swine Fever is a highly contagious disease. Pig keepers can help prevent the spread of infection by practising strict biosecurity on their premises. An important part of this is ensuring that your pigs do not have access to potentially infectious meat or meat products, including kitchen waste.”
The UK suffered the consequences of pigs being fed illegal waste food in the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001. That outbreak is thought to have originated from pigs being fed catering waste containing the virus, which came from outside the UK. The outbreak resulted in the destruction of more than 10 million cattle and sheep and cost the UK many millions of pounds.
Chief Executive of the National Pig Association, Dr Zoe Davies, said: “The health of our pigs is fundamentally important to our sector. A notifiable disease outbreak would not only needlessly result in the loss of many pigs and annihilate our burgeoning export market, but would significantly impact on countless families, their staff, local businesses and tourism for months. Feeding illegal food waste, however harmless it might seem at the time, is just not worth the risk.”
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