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No direct contact needed for bTB

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Prof Rosie Woodroffe: ‘Hard to offer farmers advice’

Prof Rosie Woodroffe: ‘Hard to offer farmers advice’

NEW findings from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College London suggest that badgers and cattle rarely meet – and that direct contact between the two is not a likely source of transmission of bovine TB. 

The stated aim of the badger culls, which began as pilots intended to trial ‘controlled shooting’ of free running badgers in two areas of South West England, but were expanded to include the more expensive trap-and-shoot and a new cull zone before the initial trial period had finished, was to reduce the ‘wildlife reservoir’ of bovine TB in badgers.

The new research shows that while badgers do favour cattle pasture as a habitat, they typically avoid cattle themselves and rarely get close enough to transmit infection directly. In the study, researchers used GPS collars to track the movements of badgers and cattle across 20 farms in Cornwall. They didn’t find a single incidence of badgers and cattle coming face to face and said that, if anything, badgers tended to avoid larger animals, preferring to keep 50m between themselves and cows.

They said that any bovine TB transmission between the species is likely to come from their shared environment – possibly from infected urine or faeces in pastures, possibly from other cattle as well as badgers – rather than direct contact. Imperial College London researchers said their discovery means advice to farmers on controlling bTB may require a rethink and ‘paves the way for novel approaches to managing this controversial disease’.

BTB HARD TO CONTROL 

The findings could shed light on just why bTB is so hard to control, even when badgers and cattle are being culled, because the bacteria that cause the disease can persist in the environment for months.

Earlier research from the government’s Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA, now APHA) which used surveillance cameras on 75 farms to look at possible ways of badger-proofing farms captured footage of badgers attempting to access cattle feed in sheds and fields. Defra said its bTB control strategy still includes wildlife-proofing high risk farms.

Discussing the recent findings, Professor Rosie Woodroffe, a senior ZSL researcher and a visiting professor at the School of Public Health at Imperial, who has spoken out against the government’s badger culling policy, said: “It has been known for a long time that badgers can transmit TB to cattle – but without knowing how they do it, it is hard to offer farmers advice on the most promising ways to protect their herds.

“Our study provides the strongest evidence yet that transmission is happening through the environment, helping to explain why controlling TB is so difficult. This work marks the first step towards identifying more effective ways to reduce transmission between badgers and cattle, and also potentially better ways to manage cattle-to-cattle transmission as well.”

It has long been known that badgers can pass bovine TB on to cattle, but an increasing body of research has shown that patterns of infection are very complex – that cattle-to-cattle transmission is the most common source of bTB on farms and that cattle can pass the disease to badgers – and this means badgers’ role in transmitting the disease, which can also affect a host of other wild and domestic species, is unclear.

‘NO CERTAINTY’ 

Speaking to the BBC, Prof Woodroffe said: “There are loads and loads of things that farmers are being advised to do and there is no certainty that any of them will actually work and because of this, hardly any farmers implement any of these sorts of measures. If we can focus on the things most likely to work on that massive array of things farmers are being advised to do, more people will do them.”

The researchers, whose work was funded by Defra, are now scanning fields to see where TB bacteria are present.

Defra is expected to announce that its highly controversial cull will be expanded into new areas of the South-West later this summer.

A COMPLEX DISEASE 

A NFU Cymru spokesperson said: “Bovine TB is a complex disease that must be tackled in the round, including addressing wildlife disease reservoirs, if we are to stand any chance of eradicating the disease. The role played by badgers in the spread of bovine TB is well known and widely accepted. Badgers are recognised as a significant wildlife reservoir of the disease in areas where it is endemic. Research has shown that badgers could contribute to up to 50% of cattle herd TB breakdowns in areas where the disease is rife.

“NFU Cymru has always said that we must use all options available if we are to stand a chance of controlling and eradicating this devastating disease. Cattle movement controls, cattle testing and on-farm biosecurity all have a vital role to play in a TB eradication plan, but experience from across the globe and indeed from our neighbours across the border in England and across the Irish Sea, have shown that a genuine TB eradication plan must also include a strategy for dealing with the disease reservoir in wildlife, in areas where it is endemic.

“From its inception, NFU Cymru has consistently raised concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s badger vaccination policy in the Intensive Action Area (IAA) in North Pembrokeshire. Four years in to what was supposed to be a five year programme, a global shortage of the BCG vaccination has led to its premature curtailment. A bovine TB wildlife strategy predicated solely on the vaccination of badgers is not a viable or sustainable policy option.

“Farmers in the IAA and across the whole of Wales are playing their part in bearing down on the disease t h r o u g h s t r i n g e n t cattle control measures, but the reservoir of infection that exists in wildlife has not been confronted. If the Welsh Government is genuine about eradicating Bovine TB in Wales then it has to implement a policy of targeted culling of badgers in areas where the disease is endemic that will actively remove the disease from the badger population in these areas.”

NO NEW EVIDENCE 

A Welsh Government spokesperson told The Herald: “We are fully aware of this interesting work by Professor Rosie Woodroffe, which we have discussed with her in some detail.

“We remain committed to a science-led approach to the eradication of bovine TB. Our current programme includes the testing of cattle, strict biosecurity measures and movement control. This is aimed at tackling all sources of infection. The latest statistics show the number of new TB incidents in the 12 months to April 2016 reduced by 17%.

“We will continue to study all the available evidence relating to the transmission and prevention of bovine TB and are considering how Professor Woodroffe’s observations might feed into continued development of our TB programme. The Cabinet Secretary will make a statement on the Welsh Government’s refreshed TB eradication programme in the autumn.”

FUW Senior Policy Officer Dr Hazel Wright told us: “The latest study by Professor Woodroffe and colleagues provides no new evidence on the issue of bovine TB transmission. The FUW has long recognised that infected badgers can contaminate both pasture and housing via the excretion of M. bovis bacilli in urine, faeces, sputum and exudate from open abscesses.

“Farmers continue to adhere to strict cattle testing, movement and biosecurity measures in an attempt to reduce the level of transmission from badgers to cattle. However, in the absence of any badger control mechanisms, such cattle measures will only have a limited effect on disease eradication whilst having a very significant emotional and financial impact on farm businesses.”

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Farming

Warning to dog owners following recent attacks on livestock

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POLICE and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn has issued a warning to dog owners that they face being prosecuted if they fail to keep their dogs under control when out walking the country side.

His warning comes following reports of several recent incidents whereby livestock have been attacked or killed by dogs in rural parts across the Dyfed-Powys Force area.

As a result of the recent incidents and the ever increasing concerns within local Farming Communities, Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn has moved swiftly to organise a meeting with NFU representatives and the Dyfed-Powys Rural Crime team which will take place on 11 January 2021.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said; “This is a critical time in the rural community as farmers go into the lambing season, and in light of these recent, concerning incidents, I will be meeting with NFU representatives and our Rural Crime Team in the Force to identify ways of working collaboratively to tackle the problem.

“Dog owners need to take responsibility for ensuring dogs are kept under control while out walking the country side, especially as we enter the lambing season.

“They may think it is fun to run around animals in fields, but this is not the case and these animals often get scared, injured or killed as a result.

“We are grateful to the majority of responsible dog walkers in our communities, but we want to remind all owners that dogs should be kept on leads at all times around livestock – it is an offence to allow your pet to worry, kill or maul sheep, their lambs, or any other livestock”.

PC Esther Davies of Dyfed-Powys Police Rural Crime Team said; “Since the Rural Crime Team was formed some two and half years ago, we have received regular reports of livestock worrying throughout the force. These are incidents that occur throughout the year and can have a devastating effect on farmers and rural communities.

“Dog owners must take responsibility for their dogs and ensure that they are kept under control at all times. If dogs are being walked be it on the road, through a field or on a footpath, and especially somewhere where there is likely to be livestock, they should always be kept on leads. Incidents like this can and should be avoided.”

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Farming

NFU Cymru President’s New Year message

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NFU Cymru President John Davies provides his New Year message, looking back over an unprecedented 12 months and assessing what lies ahead in 2021.

 

“2020 was a year the likes of which we’ve never seen. The Coronavirus pandemic has challenged all of society. My condolences go out to all of those who’ve lost loved ones to this disease. My thoughts are with all whose livelihoods have been affected by the knock-on effects that the pandemic has had on businesses and our general way of life. I’d like to place on record my heartfelt thanks to our NHS workers and those supporting them on the front line for their courage in tackling this global health emergency. So often the term ‘hero’ is attached to those in films or on the sporting stage, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that, in fact, the real heroes are those people in our communities who have gone to work – putting themselves at risk – to care for the sick and keep the rest of us safe. Diolch yn fawr iawn pawb.

“The initial impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and the overnight closure of the hospitality sector had severe consequences for the food supply chain. The resilience of those systems was stretched to the limit as the supply chain frantically sought to redirect produce that would usually be destined for the out-of-home market to the retail sector, where panic-buying had resulted in empty shelves in many stores. I thank all our farmers who have worked throughout the chaos of the Covid-19 fallout to keep the nation fed. I know that for many businesses and sectors this hasn’t always been easy and some experienced significant losses as those supply chains struggled to adapt to new demands. However, the role the entire industry has played during such a fraught period will live long in the memory of many, and indeed recent polls suggests farmers’ favourability with the consumer is higher than it has been in a decade.

“I very much hope that lessons can be learned from this tumultuous year and if the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that the safe, reliable supply of high quality affordable food is now of paramount importance to the public. As farmers we are ready and committed to ensuring that the nation remains fed during this difficult time and through future challenges, too. Our farming systems, underpinned by a fantastic, natural asset base, mean we are well equipped to be the providers of the most climate friendly food in the world. NFU Cymru will continue to lobby Welsh Government to see the importance of food production recognised and protected as a cornerstone of future policy.

“Looking ahead and, with significant changes to how Wales and the UK trades with the EU and the rest of the world, one of the biggest challenges for 2021 is going to be making sure that Welsh farmers have the widest possible range of markets freely open to them, on the best possible terms. We are, of course, relieved that that a deal has finally been agreed between the UK and the European Union, providing some much-needed certainty for the farming sector and allowing Wales’ farmers to continue to send products to the EU27 free of both tariffs and quotas. All efforts must be now be focussed on finding ways of minimising the impact of red tape on the movement of our produce to the EU.

“A heartfelt thanks must go to the one million people from all walks of life who backed our food standards campaign. Their support was instrumental in delivering legislation to ensure that food standards will now have a ‘stronger voice in UK trade policy’.

“Of course, away from the pandemic and agricultural policy, there are still major issues that are affecting the nation’s farmers every day. Bovine TB continues to blight so many businesses across Wales – all too many times this year I have again learned of families’ heartbreak and herds, generations in the making, being decimated due to this horrific disease. Please be assured that NFU Cymru will continue to pressure government to act upon the science and take notice of the proven strategies adopted by so many other countries – an approach that seeks to tackle bovine TB across all its vectors.

“NFU Cymru maintains that a heavy-handed and inflexible approach to water quality through the proposed all Wales Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) designation will not deliver the enhancements to water quality that we all want to see. NFU Cymru is committed to helping to deliver these improvements via an effective and proportionate framework that supports farmers to take action to improve water quality where it is needed. I am heartened that our Minister has recognised that these are not regulations to introduce at a time of crisis.

“Climate change remains a major challenge for all of us in society and the farming industry is putting its best foot forward to deliver on its net zero 2040 ambition. With the prestigious COP26 summit rescheduled to be held in Glasgow in 2021, it is clear this topic will, rightly, remain high on the news agenda next year. As a farmer, it’s important to me that farming’s contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change is fairly reflected in this debate. Recent research has pointed to the fact that Welsh livestock production systems are amongst the most sustainable in the world, but we know that there is much more we can and will do.

“With a Senedd election scheduled for May 2021 we will be speaking to candidates from across the political spectrum to push home the importance of Welsh food and farming. We are committed to working with the next government to deliver our ambitions for a productive, profitable and progressive farming sector that delivers for the people and communities of Wales.

“It has been a year like no other. With the vaccine rollout now underway I hope we will soon be able to consign the last pandemic-hit year to the history books and return to some form of normality, where we can soon meet at the agricultural shows and events that we all hold dear to our heart. Let us look ahead to 2021 and what we hope will be a bright, healthy and safe future.

“Blwyddyn Newydd dda.”

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Farming

Farmers face hidden tax hike

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POTENTIAL changes to rules on Capital Gains Tax could lead to a tax hike for those inheriting farmland and assets, financial advisers at NFU Mutual have warned.

Many farmers can potentially pass on farms to their children free from Inheritance Tax due to Agricultural Property Relief and Business Property Relief.

As capital gains are wiped away on death, children inheriting can sell and only face Capital Gains Tax on any rise in value between the date of death and a sale.

However, in a review ordered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Office of Tax Simplification has recommended that gains should no longer be wiped away on death where the estate has claimed Agricultural or Business Property relief to reduce Inheritance tax.

Sean McCann, Chartered Financial Planner at NFU Mutual, said: “Many farmers choose to hold on to their farming assets until death on the basis that not only might they be free of Inheritance tax, but also escape Capital Gains Tax if sold shortly after death.

“The Office of Tax Simplification’s recommendation that gains should no longer be wiped on death where Agricultural or Business Property relief has been claimed to reduce inheritance tax will mean bigger tax bills for some farming families.

“The biggest impact will be on those who sell farming assets they’ve recently inherited. Those that retain the assets and continue to farm won’t face any immediate tax liability under the proposed changes.

“The Office of Tax Simplification also recommended a hike in Capital Gains Tax rates that would align them to Income Tax rates, leading to larger tax bills.

“However, it’s likely that any change would be accompanied by an allowance to take account of the rise in value caused by general inflation, so any tax is only levied on ‘real’ gains.

“It’s important to stress Rishi Sunak has not yet confirmed he will agree to these recommendations, but many farming families will be watching the March Budget with interest.”

[INSET BOX]

EXAMPLE

A farmer owns a farm worth £1m which he bought 25 years ago for £300,000. He dies and leaves it to his children, who sell for £1m shortly after his death. Under current rules, if he met the criteria for 100% Agricultural and Business Property relief, they would pay no inheritance tax on the £1m and no Capital Gains Tax on the sale.

Under the proposal to abolish the tax-free update on death, while there would still be no inheritance tax due – if the farmer’s children sold shortly after his death, they would face a Capital Gains Tax bill on the £700,000 gain. Based on the existing rate (20%) that would trigger a Capital Gains Tax bill of £140,000.

“It’s important to stress Rishi Sunak has not yet confirmed he will agree to these recommendations, but many farming families will be watching the March Budget with interest.”

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