GEORGE EUSTICE has all the qualifications to be DEFRA Secretary of State in the Westminster Government.
He owns a pair of green wellingtons, corduroy trousers, a smart tweed jacket and a wax jacket.
He must be very good at his job. He’s been a Minister in DEFRA for most of the last six years.
CAR CRASH INTERVIEW
Which makes his catastrophically ignorant performance on Sunday’s Andrew Marr programme all the more baffling.
After six years as a Government minister, four of which have come after the result of the 2016 Referendum and ten months of which have come after Boris Johnson ‘got Brexit done’, Mr Eustice appears to have little or no grasp of the realities of agricultural production and food processing.
His nonsensical remarks about sheep farming – which he has sought to clarity – have received a lot of attention.
Of equally worthy attention is how George Eustice regards the interaction between markets.
In Eustice World ™, tariffs will have no effect on the UK’s dairy industry because tariffs will also be applied to EU goods coming into the UK. Which would be an interesting take if in the last reported year the UK didn’t operate a surplus of dairy trade with the EU. In short, EU countries buy more of ours than we do of theirs.
No doubt the gap in exports will be taken up by exporting blue cheese to the notoriously lactose-intolerant population of Japan.
ARLA RESPOND WITH HUMOUR
As an illustration of the Eustice Doctrine the DEFRA Secretary claimed that if producers like Arla wanted to continue to trade in the UK, they would have to relocate their production of Lurpak to the UK.
Arla explained in a subsequent tweet, doubtless to George Eustice’s amazement after only six years in DEFRA, Lurpak is subject to legal origin protections. Those mean that Arla can only produce Lurpak® in Denmark with Danish milk. It can’t be produced in the UK.
Arla helpfully added: “Don’t panic, whatever happens with Brexit, we’re sure we’ll be able to find a way to keep Lurpak coming into the UK.”
Dairy production was only a small part of George Eustice’s monumental achievements during his interview.
He went on to anger sheep farmers with a crass assertion so wrong-headed that even his subsequent attempted gloss on his words rubbed salt into their wounds.
FEELING THE HEAT OVER SHEEP MEAT
Andrew Marr asked George Eustice about the effect on sheep farmers. In a no-deal Brexit, red meat exporters face tariff barriers to trade with their largest export market. Over 40% of sheep meat is exported to the EU and that accounts for 90% of all UK sheepmeat exports. The largest market for British sheep meat in the EU is France, which takes around half of all exports.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the tariffs on lamb exports would make UK production uncompetitive in the EU market. Worse, the prospect of a trade deal with New Zealand raises the dual prospect of imports carving UK farmersout of their home markets.
Mr Eustice blithely asserted that UK sheep farmers would face only short term price drops and farmers who farmed sheep and cattle together could diversify into beef as imports from Ireland and the EU would fall due to increased tariffs affecting imports to the UK.
He subsequently clarified: “In my comments on the Andrew Marr Show, I did not say that all sheep farmers should diversify into beef. I said that if tariffs were applied then some mixed beef and sheep enterprises might choose to diversify more into beef because Irish beef would become subject to tariffs, creating new opportunities for British producers.”
That is not what Mr Eustice said. He said mixed cattle and sheep farms could diversify.
Mr Eustice’s suggestion would only have force if he thought most sheep farmers farmed cattle. Otherwise, his answer on sheep tariffs would make no sense in context.
On the latter point, farming organisations expressed dismay and bemusement at Mr Eustice’s ignorance.
FARMERS RESPOND TO USELESS DISPLAY
Phil Stocker, CEO of the National Sheep said: “Mr Eustice’s comments will have angered many of our nation’s sheep farmers, failing to identify the unique and varied nature of sheep enterprises across the country.
“To begin with, to suggest that many of our sheep farmers are mixed farmers is wrong. This assumption will enrage sheep farmers across the UK who have structured their farms to focus on sheep, and it will particularly antagonise our devolved nations where the landscape includes more remote areas of countryside, especially suited to sheep, and where buildings, machinery and farminfrastructure simply would not suit a sudden switch to cattle farming.
“The fact we have many sheep farmers, especially younger farmers and new entrants to the sector who run their sheep on arable farms and on short term grass lets was completely ignored – simply switching to cattle would be impossible for them.
“I find it hard to think that George Eustice really believes what he said This interview leaves us thinking his comments could either be part of creating a ‘we don’t care’ attitude to bolster trade negotiations, or, and this would be highly concerning, it exposes an underlying willingness to see our sheep industry go through a restructure to reduce its size, scale and diversity.”
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The reality is that failure to reach a trade deal would have a catastrophic impact for our key agricultural sectors that would hit home very quickly, with the sheep industry likely to feel the impact most acutely.
“It would also cause untold disruption to food and other supply chains and complete anarchy at our ports.”
Mr Roberts said that such a failure would also have devastating impacts for EU businesses and that it was therefore in both the EU and UK’s interest to ‘pull out all the stops’ to reach a deal.
Mr Roberts also rebuffed claims by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the UK ‘will prosper’ without an EU trade deal.
“You cannot cut yourself off from the worlds biggest economy and trading block in the height of a global pandemic, the worst recession for a century and having borrowed a quarter of a trillion to cope and think it’s going to go well.
“Not only would this amount to catastrophic self -harm from an economic point of view, but also at a practical level the country is woefully unprepared to cope with the flow of goods over our borders and all the paperwork and checks that this requires.”
Mr Roberts said that while EU ports facing the UK had undertaken significant changes to prepare for different Brexit scenarios, many UK ports were still in the early stages of planning new infrastructure and would not be prepared to cope with the movement of goods until at least July next year.
“Even if a deal is reached, we are facing significant additional costs and disruption as a result of non-tariff barriers due to the UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and customs union.
“A no-deal will severely escalate these and must be avoided at all costs,” he added.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “Ahead of the EU Referendum and ever since, NFU Cymru has been consistent in its messaging that a ‘No deal’ Brexit outcome, which would see the UK trading with the EU on WTO terms, would be a catastrophic position for Welsh farming. The reason for our strong position is that the EU market has been – and remains – the nearest, largest and most lucrative export market for many Welsh products. It is a marketplace where our customers recognise and value the Welsh brand and the high standards it represents.
“Only a year ago the industry was told that the odds of a ‘No deal’ Brexit were ‘a million to one against’ and there was an ‘oven-ready deal’, yet here we are only weeks before the end of the transition period, facing the prospect of ‘No deal’ and high tariffs on our exports.
“The comments made by Secretary of State George Eustice serve to further underline why it is so important to Welsh agriculture that UK Government agrees on a deal that secures access to the EU without tariff barriers and with minimal friction.
“The Secretary of State’s view that Welsh sheep farmers could diversify into beef production to offset the impact of a ‘non-negotiated outcome’ will be of major concern to our sheep farmers, who are some of the most efficient and innovative in the world producing a quality product. The reality is that changing production methods involves long-term production cycles and for many, the significant investment required makes it an unviable option.
“The Minister’s comments on the dairy sector are also concerning and do not account for the fact that we are net exporters of some dairy commodities and that the profitability of some domestic sectors, like liquid milk, is tied closely to the timely export of high-value co-products to the EU, like cream. The idea that many of the major EU dairy processors will have to relocate their operations to the UK is fraught with difficulties and is, in many cases, unviable.
“Being priced out of our nearest and most important export markets for even a short amount of time would have severe consequences for the food and farming sector in Wales.”
TFA National Chair Mark Coulman said: “To suggest that dairy farmers will be saved by forcing Arla to produce its popular Lurpak brand in the UK when it is legally bound to keep its production in Denmark and that dedicated and successful sheep farmers should consider diversifying into beef production, if export markets for our high-quality lamb become closed to us, were not helpful, to say the least. The farming community was hoping for much better than this.
“Somehow, we need to use the short time available to garner the strength to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. This will require a concerted effort with the Government and the farming industry working together to achieve that. Although late in the day, the TFA is committed to engaging in that work,” Mr Coulman concluded.
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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