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.
Local MP backs Parliamentary inquiry into rural productivity
BEN LAKE will join MPs from across the political divide to identify opportunities to grow the rural economy
The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Rural Powerhouse is undertaking a comprehensive investigation into the health of the rural economy.
The inquiry started in May this year, taking evidence from rural businesses and representative bodies, as well as academics, government ministers and other experts. Oral evidence sessions have covered farming and land use, the planning system, access to skills, mobile and electrical connectivity as well as exploring how the tax regime could be used to encourage diversification and entrepreneurship in rural areas.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake took part in the final evidence session today – which investigated the role of government structures and procedures, asking whether they hinder or help in delivering rural objectives.
Ben Lake MP told The Ceredigion Herald: “There are over 500,000 rural businesses across Wales and England – they are the backbone of the rural economy. Closing the productivity gap between rural and urban communities is essential to ‘levelling up’. If we want to see thriving rural communities, we must ensure everyone has the opportunity for a good job and a good home. This inquiry will help identify changes in government policy necessary to deliver that goal.”
Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association which represents 28,000 rural businesses in England and Wales, said: “Closing the rural productivity gap would add £43bn of gross value added (GVA) to the economy – creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in communities everywhere. This would be on top of the £261bn the rural economy already contributes to the national economy.
“The reasons for the countryside’s lower productivity are complex but, thanks to this inquiry, we have gathered evidence that will be critical in determining what improvements should be made to ensure that levelling up the countryside really is at the heart of the government’s agenda.”
The APPG inquiry will publish its findings early in the new year.
Avian Influenza identified in poultry on Anglesey
THE CHIEF Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop has confirmed the presence of avian influenza H5N1 in a small backyard flock of chickens and ducks at a premises on the Isle of Anglesey.
A 3km and 10km Temporary Control Zone Area have been imposed around the small infected premises, to limit the risk of disease spread.
The risk to public health from the virus is considered to be very low and these cases do not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
A case of avian influenza was confirmed in poultry and wild birds in Wrexham County borough last month. There have been similar findings of avian influenza in the UK and Europe.
On Wednesday this week the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agreed to bring in new housing measures to protect poultry and captive birds from avian influenza. These measures come into force on Monday, 29 November.
All keepers are strongly advised to be vigilant for signs of the disease such as increased mortality or respiratory distress. If keepers have any concerns about the health of their birds, they are encouraged to seek prompt advice from their veterinary surgeon.
The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop, said:
“This confirmation of a case of avian influenza in poultry on the Isle of Anglesey is further evidence of the need for all keepers of birds to ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.
“We have announced new housing measures will come into force from next Monday to protect poultry and kept birds, but I must stress that this is at its most effective when combined with implementation of the most stringent biosecurity measures.
“Public Health Wales has said the risk to the health of the public from Avian Influenza is very low and the Food Standards Agency has made clear it does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
“Temporary control zones have been imposed to help prevent further spread of the disease.
“Suspicion of avian influenza or any other notifiable disease must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately.”
No badger cull but bTB strategy change on cards
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has ruled out controlling the spread of bovine TB through a targeted cull in areas where the disease is endemic.
A spokesperson confirmed the Welsh Government’s position ahead of the publication of a significant review of its TB eradication strategy.
The review, led by Professor Glyn Hewinson of Aberystwyth University, is likely to focus on cattle vaccination and the use of improved tests for TB bacteria in cattle.
False positives for BTB can only be detected after death by a post-mortem.
BOVINE TB DEVASTATES PEMBROKESHIRE FARMS
The persistence of the BTB bacteria in the soil and in the protected wild mammal population, particularly badgers, creates a perfect storm for farmers in our county.
The area around the shared borders of North Pembrokeshire, the Teifi Valley, and North West Carmarthen is a long-standing hotspot for the disease.
Farmers in that area have suffered disproportionate and repeated losses throughout the Welsh Government’s different approaches to eradicating BTB.
When the disease is detected in a herd, it is standard practice for all of it to be slaughtered. Although farmers are partly compensated for their loss, the loss of their stock leaves farmers with long-term problems for their business’s recovery.Herds’ loss and slaughter are linked closely to mental health problems among farmers and farming families. The cost of BTB is much greater than balancing profit and loss.
CURRENT PROGRAMME ISN’T WORKING
Local MS Sam Kurtz, who comes from a farming family, told The Herald: “Since the 1970s, bovine TB has been a dark cloud hanging over our agricultural industry
“While it may not have had the impact on the public’s psyche as the Foot and Mouth crisis had in the early 2000s, bovine TB has been a long and heavy burden on Welsh farmers, with over 20,000 cattle killed in the last 2 years.
“What the Welsh Government have in terms of a policy is the repetition of an outdated and inaccurate testing regime followed by stringent and debilitating restrictions on farmers.
“It is clear, from the latest data showing new bovine TB cases in Wales have risen by 3%, that the Welsh Government’s current eradication programme is simply not working.
“Throughout the pandemic, our farmers have worked 24/7 to keep food on our tables, despite being laboured with the stresses and concerns of routine TB testing.
“The industry is now desperate for some urgency and a change in strategy.
“A new testing regime, Enferplex, delivers superior accuracy than the current test.
“While it is being undertaken in small pockets of Wales, a dedicated pilot scheme of this new test to collect hard data must be a priority for this Welsh Government.”
The Enferplex Bovine TB antibody test identifies the presence of bovine tuberculosis. Used in conjunction with existing tests, it is far more accurate than current tests in validating positive diagnoses.
EFFECTIVE PROGRAMME MUST TACKLE ALL ASPECTS OF DISEASE
The FUW believes that any future changes to the bTB eradication programme should closely follow the science to develop an effective eradication programme covering all aspects of the disease in Wales.
An FUW spokesperson told us: “Bovine TB continues to suffocate businesses in the high and intermediate areas of infection in Wales and continues to have a significant detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of our farmers and their families.
“September’s Quarterly Publication of National Statistics on the incidence and prevalence of tuberculosis in Cattle in Great Britain shows variable results, with no year-on-year change in the number of herds that are not TB free in the High West Area of Wales, and a 26% rise in the number of herds not TB free in the Intermediate North Area.
“Such results continue to devastate businesses that have made massive sacrifices
to comply with the Welsh Government’s costly and burdensome bovine TB eradication programme.
“The FUW welcomes further research on this devastating disease as part of a science led and pragmatic approach to TB control in Wales. We look forward to the publication of the next TB review and will be discussing the findings of the review at all relevant political and policy levels.”
NFU CYMRU: WELCOME REVIEW BUT URGE OPEN MIND ON CULL
NFU Cymru County Adviser for Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, Peter Howells, said: “It is concerning to see the latest bovine TB statistics published by Defra that show a rise in bovine TB incidents and the loss of 10,775 animals in Wales to this dreadful disease in the year ending June 21. This once again highlights that bovine TB continues to wreak havoc on the cattle industry in Wales.
“In October 2017, we saw the Welsh Government introduce a regionalised approach to tackling the disease in Wales.
NFU Cymru is supportive of an approach that allows for the appropriate measures to be introduced depending on the circumstances.
In Low TB areas of Wales, we must do all we can to keep the disease out. In areas of the country, such as South West Wales, where the evidence suggests that both cattle and badgers suffer from this disease, we believe that the disease will only be brought under control through a comprehensive package of measures that tackles the infection in both populations.
“We continue to urge Welsh Government to take note of the evidence published from England. A peer-reviewed scientific report examining the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing outbreaks of TB in cattle has shown positive results in England.
“The Defra-commissioned report revealed an average reduction in the incidence of bovine TB of at least 40% in areas of England that have completed at least four years of culling.
“Just across the border in Gloucestershire, the report has shown a 66% decline in new TB breakdowns.
“NFU Cymru continues to use every opportunity to raise with the Minister for Rural Affairs our concerns for the emotional and financial impact this disease causes to farming families. Earlier this summer, we wrote directly to the First Minister on this matter.
“We are aware that the Minister has said she will make a statement on the TB programme later this autumn and that Professor Hewinson is currently carrying out an internal review of the programme. We are pleased that the Minister has asked someone of Professor Hewinson’s experience and expertise to carry out the review and we await with interest the publication of the review.”
WG: EVIDENCE OF CULL’S EFFECTIVENESS INCONCLUSIVE
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “TB in cattle is a huge challenge for all concerned and distressing for farmers who have to deal with it in their herds. Part of the solution to the problem is people’s willingness to work together, both in Government and the industry.
“The Wales TB Eradication programme is built on co-operation, with three regional eradication boards working at a local level to ensure policies are developed collaboratively and communicated effectively.
“We have outlined in our Programme for Government we will not permit the culling of badgers as part of measures to deal with bovine TB.
“Recent scientific studies did not provide conclusive evidence that culling badgers alone would reduce incidence levels in cattle herds.
“It has been proven that more infection is transmitted within species than between species, which suggests that controlling transmission among cattle is a priority in the strategy for eliminating TB.
“When the Intensive Action Area (IAA) was established in 2010 with additional measures introduced into the High West TB area, 27.1% of herds were restricted due to TB control. At the end of June 2021, 14.5% of herds were restricted, constituting a decrease in herd prevalence between then and now of 46%.
“We are committed to undertaking a review of the current TB eradication programme, and we will announce a refreshed approach later this year.
“All aspects of the programme will be considered, and we will undertake a consultation in the Autumn to inform future policy.”
VACCINATION AND THE FUTURE
The irony is that a largely effective vaccine already exists.
The BCG vaccination given to humans is 70% effective when used to immunise cattle. The vaccine uses the TB bacteria to provoke an immune response. Once it’s used, however, tests cannot detect the difference between cattle successfully inoculated and infected cattle.
Therefore, vaccinating cows with BCG is banned in most countries, enabling vets to continue to use the PPD skin test to diagnose the disease in cattle.
Scientists at the University of Surrey believe they could have a solution to that problem.
By manipulating the disease’s genetic make-up, the scientists created a BCG-minus strain. They then developed a new synthetic skin test that, like existing tests, will be positive for animals that have been exposed to TB. Unlike those tests, however, the new test will show a negative result for animals that have been vaccinated with the BCG-minus strain.
Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, said: “To control the spread of bovine TB, effective vaccination and accurate early diagnosis of the disease are critical. This new vaccine provides protection against bovine TB. It will help fight against this deadly disease that infects over 50 million cattle worldwide and is economically devastating to farmers.
“The next stage of our work will be to demonstrate that both synthetic skin test and BCG-minus vaccine works in cattle herds. If they do, then it will be possible to vaccinate cattle against TB yet retain the value of skin test for diagnosis.”
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