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Farming

Agriculture Bill passes Commons

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party used its Commons majority to ram through its Agriculture Bill on Monday, October 12.
Along the way, it voted down amendments which would have forced Boris Johnson’s government to uphold its manifesto promises on food production standards and animal welfare.
The Government’s actions, combined with its procedural manoeuvre to block an attempt to give a proposed trade watchdog teeth, have drawn universal condemnation from farming unions and organisations.
Fourteen Conservative MPs opposed the Government, including former DEFRA Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. Every Welsh Conservative MP voted against safeguarding farmingstandards.
The Wildlife Trusts of Wales and England described the vote as: “[T]he clearest signal yet that the Government do not intend to uphold their election manifesto commitment to maintain the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations.”
Phil Stocker of the NSA commented: “There is now the very real risk, despite Government’s assurances, that the UK’s standards that our nation’s farmers are proud to work to, could be undermined by lower standard imports.”

‘DISAPPOINTMENT AN UNDERSTATEMENT’

Speaking to The Herald after the vote, TFA Chief Executive George Dunn said: “To say that the events which took place in the House of Commons last night were a disappointment, would be a major understatement. For the Government to whip its MPs to vote against an amendment entirely in line with its own policy has created a breach of trust in believing its rhetoric around protecting our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards in future international trade agreements.”
“It was also shocking that the Government used a procedural manoeuvre to deny MPs the opportunity of voting on a crucial House of Lords amendment that would have improved the operation of the newly appointed Trade and Agriculture Commission,” Mr Dunn told us.
He continued: “This was a shocking piece of political chicanery which prevented MPs from even debating this important piece of legislation. Over a million people signed a petition earlier in the year calling on the Government to ensure the strongest standards in trade and it is an issue for which there has been cross-party support. Expanding the role and remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission would not, as the Government claimed, tie its hands but merely ensure that its future trade policy had proper scrutiny and support from an expert panel.”
Mr Dunn concluded by drawing attention to the erosion of trust between the Conservative Government and the agriculture industry: “Day after day we hear Government Ministers declare that they will not jeopardise our high environmental, animal welfare and consumer safety standards in trade. Sadly, their words say one thing, but their actions say another. Unless we have strong legislation in this area, the fine words are just empty promises.”

‘WARM WORDS WON’T WASH’

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards told this newspaper: “The Agriculture Bill was a missed opportunity to safeguard in law food product standards and in particular food production standards.
“Warm words from the British Government that they won’t allow Welsh farmers to be undercut by lower standard food in trade deals won’t wash.
“The fact that the British Government have gone out of their way to stop democratic accountability over trade deals does not fill me with confidence.
“Wales should have a veto over trade deals negotiated by the British Government in the same way that every single member of the European Union could veto trade deals negotiated by the EU.
“The reality is that the future of Welsh farming is in the hands of a British Government who I fear will be conceding access to food markets in order to gain concessions for London banks.”

NFU DISMAY

NFU Cymru expressed dismay but vowed to continue lobbying for binding commitments to safeguard farming’s high standards in future trade deals
NFU Cymru Deputy President Aled Jones said: “It is a blow that the Grantchester amendment (on animal welfare) was not adopted by a majority of MPs, nor did MPs have the chance to vote on the Curry amendment (strengthening the Trade & Agriculture Commission). However, NFU Cymru remains steadfast in its belief that Welsh farmers must not be undermined by imported products produced to lower standards than those observed here in the UK.”
Adopting an upbeat approach which suggested NFU Cymru was prepared to take government promises and MPs’ words at face value, Mr Jones continued: “We were encouraged to hear so many MPs in last night’s debate expressing their support for those high standards – standards that consumers in this country have come to expect – and we thank those MPs who spoke up in favour of this important cause.
“This ongoing debate around food standards is matter of a huge importance for Britain’s farmers and Britain’s consumers, also. We simply cannot risk any trade scenario which could result in food imports coming into this country that would be illegal if produced here.”
Looking forward to the next stage of the Bill’s passage to the statute books, Aled Jones added: “With the Agriculture Bill set to return to the House of Lords, this gives peers another opportunity to put forward amendments that we hope will bring about the changes we want to see – UK farming’s high standards protected and enshrined in law, while also giving more power to the elbow of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.”

LACK OF COMMITMENT ‘SPEAKS VOLUMES’

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, Llyr Gruffydd MS, told us: “Last night, Plaid Cymru supported amendments that would have protected food standards in future trade deals and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations.
“Yet again, the Conservatives let down Welsh farmers when given the chance to protect their livelihoods. Despite all their promises and manifesto commitments, the Government defeated the amendments, exposing our farmers to cheap produce in future trade deals.
“Plaid Cymru will continue to put forward a positive vision for our food producers based on a greater say for our devolved governments and the protection of food standards. This is not because we not only believe them necessary now, but because they are fundamental to our farmers and food producers in the future.”
Lesley Griffiths, Wales’ Minister for Rural Affairs, said: “Although UK Ministers continue to insist they will maintain existing high standards of food safety and animal welfare in any new trade deals, their rejection of the opportunity to put this commitment into statute speaks volumes – especially given the fact that the amendments put forward by the Lords gave them a prime opportunity to do so.
“Food safety and welfare are devolved matters, and we have been clear that we would resist any clauses in the Internal Market Bill which would allow Westminster to start a race to the bottom in terms of standards – a move which would not just impact consumers, but also risk farm businesses across Wales as they face international competition from companies willing to forego the standards to which they adhere.”

WIDER REACTION

Prominent farmer and TV presenter Gareth Wyn Jones tweeted: ‘Very disappointed this morning after last night’s government defeated amendments to the #AgricultureBill which would have protected our #food & #farming standards. Don’t forget they’ve not only sold the farming community out but the health of our nation. @BorisJohnson’
Conservation groups and environmental campaigners also expressed their concern at the government’s unwillingness to commit to anything more than warm sentiment over environmental standards and welfare measures.
The RSPB said: “The UK Government must now say how it will meet its manifesto commitment to maintain standards in future trade deals, as confidence in them to do so is now at a chronically low ebb.”
RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood also underlined the Government’s failure to put meat on its manifesto promise.
Chris Sherwood said: “The Government once again failed to make good their manifesto promise that they will not sell out the UK’s animal welfare for a quick trade deal. The vote shows a disregard for the British public, 83% of whom said they did not want lower standard imports coming in from the US when we leave the EU.”
Nature Friendly Farming Network UK Chair, Martin Lines, observed: “Despite manifesto commitments and repeated assurances from successive governments not to lessen standards in trade, the government has instead passed on one of the final opportunities to enshrine our high-quality environmental and animal welfare standards in law and to protect the UK farmingindustry.”
James Russell, BVA President, said: “This result is a severe blow for animal welfare and a betrayal of the Government’s own manifesto commitment to maintain and improve on health and welfare standards.
“We have long argued that the UK cannot commit to raising the bar domestically while allowing in goods that don’t meet the high standards that British consumers rightly want and expect.
“If the government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
CLA President Mark Bridgeman sounded a warning note: “Government Ministers have successfully convinced MPs they can be trusted to protect food production standards without the need for legislation.
“Time and again Ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own.
Farmers across the country will be watching Government’s every move very closely from hereon in.”

Business

James Evans MS calls for overhaul of ‘toxic’ Meat Promotion Wales

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A CONSERATIVE MS called for Hybu Cig Cymru to be made fully independent amid concerns about a “toxic bullying culture” within the meat promotion organisation.

James Evans, the shadow rural affairs secretary, warned the farming industry is losing faith in Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), Wales’ meat marketing board.

He said HCC’s chief executive has stood down, two senior executives are leaving and board members are on the verge of resigning.

Mr Evans said: “There have been no board minutes published since 2022, and no up-to-date financial statements or annual reports on their website since 2021.

“This is a very concerning position for HCC to find itself in. The body underpins an industry that’s been valued at more than £1b to Wales.“

The Brecon and Radnorshire MS said a toxic culture of bullying and governance issues within the Welsh Government-owned company are undermining farmers’ confidence.

He said: “A lot of people in the industry, as well, are very concerned about whether the board and the chairman of the board have got the power and the levers that they need to actually turn the organisation around.

“The industry is losing faith.”

During rural affairs questions on June 19, Mr Evans called for a fully independent meat marketing board, run by farmers and processors for farmers and processors.

He told the Senedd: “A lot of farmers I’m speaking to are telling me, ‘Take it away from the Welsh Government, give it back to the industry, give it to the processors, let them directly appoint people onto that board, and, if they don’t perform, they can take them away’.”

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow rural affairs secretary, warned that the situation is “going from bad to worse”, with two directors resigning this week.

The North Wales representative raised concerns about absence levels and staff turnover as he echoed calls for government intervention.

Pressing Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh Government’s rural affairs secretary, he warned of the risk of undermining the faith of HCC levy payers and the reputation of Welsh red meat.

He asked: “For how long will you say that this is someone else’s problem?”

Mr Irranca-Davies replied: “We have to leave it to Hybu Cig Cymru to actually work through these issues and do them properly and assiduously. That is HCCs role…

“It is not for me to step in and, in some ways, tell HCC what to do, or intervene in what are sensitive and delicate discussions with both current and former members.”

Mr Irranca-Davies said he has not heard a universal voice from farmers calling for HCC to be made independent of the Welsh Government.

The rural affairs secretary, who is also responsible for climate change, recognised concerns about governance, saying he has met the chair to seek assurances in the past few weeks.

He told the chamber: “In terms of their day-to-day business and their performance, they’re getting on with it. I’ve had those reassurances that performance is not affected….

“But clearly, I’m aware of the internal governance issues and I’m sure they’re focused on resolving them.”

Mr Irranca-Davies, a former MP and Defra minister under Gordon Brown’s UK Government, pointed out that Heather Anstey-Myers was appointed interim chief executive in January.

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Farming

Strict condition expected to be removed from former farmer’s home in Spittal

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A CALL to remove a strict agricultural condition on a Pembrokeshire property, granted in the 1990s for a vegetable nursery which later suffered with the rise of supermarkets, is expected to get the go-ahead.

In an application recommended for approval at Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee meeting of June 25, Mr K Morgan seeks the removal of an agricultural occupancy condition on land at Oakvale, Spittal.

It seeks the removal of a 1993 condition, which reads: “The occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed, in the locality in agriculture (as defined in Section 336(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990), or in forestry or a dependent of such a person residing with him/her, or a widow or widower of such a person”.

Earlier this year, a certificate of Lawfulness was granted at Oakdale; the property having been occupied for over 10 years in breach of the occupancy condition.

An application for a certificate of lawfulness allows an applicant to stay at a development if they can provide proof of occupancy over a prolonged period, normally in excess of four years.

A supporting statement for Mr Morgan’s application says he and his late wife, who had previously run a dairy and arable farm, established a vegetable and plant nursery at Oakvale in 1990, later submitting a successful 1993 application for a dwelling with an agricultural worker condition.

They sold direct from the site and also to local shops, the nursery doing well for a number of years before suffering “with the advent of supermarkets,” ceasing all together in 2010, by which time the property was also serving as a small caravan site, which continues to this day.

Mr Morgan has continued to live at Oakvale whilst managing the caravan site, with his daughter and her family also living on-site to help care for Mr Morgan due to illness.

A report for planners states: “It is possible for the property to be occupied in breach of the condition by any non-qualifying person in perpetuity.  Whilst it is theoretically possible that a future purchaser might comply with the occupancy condition, meaning that the certificate would fall away, the consequences of such an action would result in a loss of upwards of 30 per cent of the value of the property.

“The very low likelihood of this course of action is such that the fall-back position associated with the certificate is a material consideration sufficient to outweigh the conflict with planning policy.”

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Farming

Wales legislates for ‘industry-led approach’ to tackle Bovine Viral Diarrhoea

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NEXT MONTH (Jul 1), the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (Wales) Order 2024 will be introduced to facilitate an industry-led approach to eradicating the disease.

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is a widespread viral disease affecting cattle, which can lead to abortion, infertility, deformed calves, and compromised herd health and welfare, particularly among young stock. Herds infected with BVD often experience increased cases of calf pneumonia and scours, as well as reduced productivity and other cattle health and welfare issues. BVD is not recognised to be a risk to public health or food safety.

Cattle sector representatives and Welsh Government have been closely working together to develop legislation to facilitate the next steps towards the eradication of BVD in Wales. This compulsory phase of the industry-led BVD eradication programme starts this summer.

Eradicating BVD from Wales will improve standards of animal health and welfare and help Wales achieve its Net Zero targets sooner. Eradicating BVD from a typical Welsh herd of 40 cattle could reduce the carbon footprint by around 70,200kg CO2e annually.

In addition, eradication should bring significant farm-level financial benefits stemming from improved cattle health, welfare, and productivity, including increased milk yield and reproduction rates.

From 1st July 2024, the industry-led BVD legislation that Welsh Government is introducing will require keepers to:

  1. Screen their herds for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) annually by testing a small number of cattle.
  2. Isolate Persistently Infected (PI) animals from the rest of the herd for the remainder of their lives.
  3. Cattle keepers will have until 1st July 2025 to complete their annual herd test.

These measures will support the innovative, industry-led approach to stopping the spread of BVD, safeguarding animal welfare, and maintaining a healthy and sustainable cattle industry in Wales. Cattle industry representatives, with Welsh Government assistance, will set up a Wales BVD governance body involving a comprehensive partnership and farmer support structure to facilitate BVD eradication efforts.

Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies, said: “I understand and appreciate the serious impact of BVD, not just on standards of animal health and welfare, but also the impact on production and the serious economic costs of this disease to farm businesses.

“The eradication of BVD in Wales is a long-standing commitment, and I fully support industry and Government working together in close partnership to achieve this outcome.”

Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Dr Richard Irvine, said: “The benefits of being BVD-free include increased cattle health, welfare, productivity and fertility. Eliminating BVD can reduce costs and the carbon footprint of your herd. Maintaining a BVD-free status strengthens the health and welfare of our cattle farms in Wales, and can also help reduce antibiotic usage.

Embarking on this next phase of the BVD eradication programme in Wales is a really important step. I would like to recognise the industry-led approach, backed up by this new BVD legislation. We can achieve eradication through the ongoing efforts of all cattle farmers, working closely with their vets, to screen and protect their herds from BVD.”

Supporting comments:

John Griffiths, Head of Agricultural Research & Development and former manager of the Gwaredu BVD scheme, said: “It’s very important for us to work to eradicate BVD from our herds in Welsh, and this is one disease which is possible to eradicate. Many other countries are working to get rid of the disease and Welsh will now join Ireland, Scotland, and England to get rid of the disease.”

Dr Neil Paton, from Royal Veterinary College, said: “The BVD virus causes a huge impact on the welfare of cattle and getting rid of the virus will mean a much healthier cattle population and a much more productive one too”.

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