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Farming

Badger cull: Judicial review goes ahead

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badger cullTHE BADGER Trust has been granted permission by a judge for a Judicial Review challenge in the High Court against the DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson and Natural England. The test case focuses on the Government’s highly controversial badger cull policy. 

The Judicial Review will argue that Owen Paterson and Natural England have failed to put in place any Independent Expert Panel for the planned culling of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2014. The Trust contends such a Panel is needed to oversee the design of data collection, its analysis and interpretation. Without this, there can be no proper assessment of the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the culling operation, something that would be needed before any lawful decision to continue with further culls around the country. The Badger Trust legal challenge has received strong support from some members of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) set up by the Government to monitor the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the badger culls carried out in 2013. Commenting on the Judicial Review challenge, Ranald Munro, Chairman of the IEP said “The Independent Expert Panel’s report states clearly the rationale for ensuring that independent monitoring and the use of the statistically robust sample sizes and analytical methods, as used in the 2013 culls, are followed in further culling exercises. If this scientific advice is ignored then the data collected during the proposed 2014 culls will be insufficiently reliable for assessment of humaneness and effectiveness. This means that farmers, veterinarians and scientists intimately involved in controlling bovine TB will be denied the information necessary to allow them to assess whether the IEP’s recommended changes to the culling process have corrected the failings identified by the pilot culls.” Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild welcomed the judge’s decision to grant permission for the Judicial Review challenge saying “Owen Paterson has done all he can to prevent this Judicial Review case going to the High Court and he has failed. His refusal to put in place any independent monitoring of the badger culls due to take place in Gloucestershire and Somerset over the next few months against the advice of the Independent Expert Panel he set up is a national disgrace. “The caring compassionate British public will not remain silent, whilst poorly trained NFU contract gunmen move through our countryside at night shooting badgers with rifles and shotguns without any independent monitoring or scrutiny. We know from last year’s culls that many badgers were wounded and suffered long painful deaths in a disastrous operation, which proved a complete and utter failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds. “I am very pleased to see that we have strong support from some members of the Independent Expert Panel and I look forward to joining Professor Tim Coulson in Parliament on Monday 7 July, when we will brief MP’s from all parties on why we believe they should also give their support to the Badger Trust legal challenge. “I also call again on the British Veterinary Association to show animal welfare and humaneness is their number one priority by supporting the Badger Trust in the High Court.” The BVA said: “We will not be taking a further position on the pilot culls until BVA Council has had the opportunity to consider Defra’s plans in full, when they are made available. “We are concerned that recent media reports and the Badger Trust have misrepresented our position and that some news articles have incorrectly suggested that BVA has withdrawn its support for badger culling as part of the overall strategy to eradicate bovine TB. “BVA continues to believe that the TB eradication strategy for England will only be successful if we are able to use all of the available tools, including targeted, humane badger culling.”

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Farming

Advice to poultry owners as avian flu prevention zone established

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A PREVENTION zone to protect poultry and captive birds from a strain of avian flu has been declared in Wales, following confirmed cases in the UK.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Animal Health and Welfare Team are now warning poultry owners to keep their birds indoors or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds.

The Welsh Government has introduced enhanced biosecurity requirements to mitigate the risk of infection following recent confirmed cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 in England.

A veterinary risk assessment for Great Britain shows that the risk level for disease in wild birds is now ‘high’. The risk associated with direct and indirect transmission to poultry has also increased to ‘medium’

Although there are currently no findings of avian influenza in Wales, the Wales-wide avian prevention zone has been introduced as a precautionary measure in response to the increased risk level.

All keepers of poultry and other captive birds, irrespective of how they are kept, are now required to take the following steps:

  • Ensure the areas where birds are kept are unattractive to wild birds, for example by netting ponds, and by removing wild bird food sources
  • Feed and water birds in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds
  • Minimise movement of people in and out of bird enclosures
  • Clean and disinfect footwear and keep areas where birds live clean and tidy
  • Reduce any existing contamination by cleansing and disinfecting concrete areas and fencing off wet or boggy areas

Keepers with more than 500 birds are required to take some extra biosecurity measures, including restricting access to non-essential people, changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles.

The Welsh Government is continuing to monitor the situation closely and has increased its surveillance activity.

Lucy Thomas, Lead Officer with the Council’s Animal Health Team, said: “Poultry keepers should remain vigilant for any signs of disease in their birds or any wild birds, and seek prompt advice from a vet if they have any concerns.

“Pembrokeshire County Council and Welsh Government have Animal Health Disease Contingency Plans in place for dealing with an avian influenza outbreak, should one occur in the area”

More information on avian influenza can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu

 

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Farming

Farmers should prepare for IHT changes

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FARMERS should review their Inheritance Tax (IHT) and succession plans ahead of the Spring Statement as potentially significant changes are expected, according to rural accountant Old Mill.
There are less than six months before the Spring Statement, and changes to the IHT format – based on recommendations originally outlined by the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) in July 2019 – are likely. “The recommendations were primarily geared towards streamlining IHT administration but may have the secondary effect of reducing some of the favourable reliefs available to farmers,” explains Catherine Vickery, associate director at Old Mill.
“Current IHT legislation can be very beneficial for farmers, giving confidence that they can pass down agricultural business and property assets to the next generation tax free on death,” she adds. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has left the Government with a very large debt, so there’s potential that it will implement any OTS recommendations to increase tax revenue.”
So, with the Spring Statement anticipated for March, what can farmers do to mitigate any potential changes?
“Under the existing rules, agricultural land and property qualify for Agricultural Property Relief (APR) from IHT at up to 100%,” explains Mrs Vickery. Other land and property assets, like diversified enterprises, can qualify for up to 100% Business Property Relief (BPR) as part of an overall farming business which is at least 50% trading. “These reliefs can apply on lifetime transfers as well as on death where the conditions are met.”
Transfers on death currently also qualify for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) free uplift so that gains are effectively washed out. Lifetime transfers of agricultural land, property, and businesses which are at least 80% trading qualify for gift holdover relief, meaning gains can be deferred until a later disposal.
However, a key OTS recommendation is to remove the CGT free uplift on death when IHT relief is also available. This would mean that the next generation would inherit the farm at an historically low base cost, leading to higher CGT on any future sale.
The OTS has also just released its report into CGT simplification which echoes this same recommendation.   Proposals to alter the trading test for BPR, aligning it to the 80% CGT trading test could leave farmers ineligible for 100% BPR, which could result in assets having to be sold to pay IHT liabilities.
“The most tax efficient option has often been for farmers to continue to actively farm and hold onto assets until they die,” says Mrs Vickery. “Now, given speculation about potential changes, the best course of action is to get a succession plan in place as soon as possible and start implementing it.
“Plans need to be arranged based on what is right for you, your family and the farm right now, rather than how things might stand at a later date.”
This means establishing who is taking on the assets and if they have the skills needed to drive the business forward. “Pass over this responsibility while you still can and while you can be on hand to guide and support your successor,” advises Mrs Vickery.
It’s also important to review partnership or shareholder agreements, and consider the handing on of other assets. Additionally, farmers should collate any trust and gift deeds, so that paperwork is on hand to be reviewed.
“Though we suspect the new IHT rules won’t be favourable, farmers need to make use of the rules we have now as these are a current certainty,” says Mrs Vickery. “Succession planning is so easy to put off but it’s a vital tool in safeguarding the future of farming businesses.”
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Farming

Eustice turns in a useless performance

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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.

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