FUW REBUFFS RSPCA BADGER CULL CLAIMS

The FUW today rebuffed claims by animal rights groups that proposals to cull badgers to control bovine TB would make it impossible to know which parts of a control strategy may work.

FUW vice president Brian Walters said: "There is solid scientific data that shows controlling badger numbers reduces incidences of TB by between 50 and 60 per cent. There is also solid scientific evidence showing that cattle controls, when applied in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, reduce TB incidences.

"We therefore know that a combination of both policies will accelerate the eradication of TB.

"No-one with a rudimentary knowledge of basic scientific principles would deny this, and in my mind claims to the contrary by animal rights groups such as the RSPCA and the Badger Trust demonstrate their wish to mislead the general public."

Mr Walters, a Carmarthen organic dairy farmer, also condemned comments by animal rights groups as "deliberately inflammatory" and "designed to mislead the general public".

"The RSPCA has described the decision as one that will ‘‘eliminate badgers from a large area of the Welsh countryside’’. Yet even after five years of badger removal in the English trials badgers numbers remained at levels well above the European average.

"The Minister has also made it clear that healthy badgers could be relocated into the area in order to ensure a sustainable and healthy livestock and badger population would coexist, side by side.

"The comments of the RSPCA are therefore utterly misleading, and the general public must not to allow these to deceive them. Anyone who reads this nonsense should take a step back and look at this situation rationally.

"The science shows that the prevalence of disease in badgers is thousands of per cent higher than it is in cattle, and we know that the disease can pass back and forth between both species, so we clearly need to control the disease in both cattle and badgers.

"That does not mean eradicating either badgers or cattle. The science supports the measures that have been proposed and no one should allow themselves to be misled by statements made by the RSPCA, the Badger Trust, or anyone else."


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FUW SAYS MINISTER’S TB ANNOUNCEMENT IS MAJOR STEP FORWARD

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed an announcement today by Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones that she intends to set up an intensive action pilot area that will address the issue of TB in wildlife.

The Minister told AMs that the zone will cover north Pembrokeshire where badgers will be culled by cage trapping.

Together with the cull there will be a raft of extra cattle control measures in the area to maximise the impact of the disease eradication programme.

Speaking after the announcement, FUW President Gareth Vaughan said: "This marks a significant step in the fight against bovine tuberculosis in Wales, and I commend the Minister and her staff for their resolve."

Last year the number of cattle slaughtered in Wales due to TB rose by 52%, to more than 12,000, while the disease prevalence in Welsh cattle was found to have increased by more than 30%, to 0.75%. Ten years ago the number of Welsh cattle slaughtered was just 1,046.

"We know from figures released in 2007 that the prevalence of TB in Welsh badgers is around 13%, and in some regions one in four badgers have been found to be infected," said Mr Vaughan.

"That is around 30 times higher than the rate of TB in cattle. The figures speak for themselves.

"For more than a decade we have been killing more and more cattle and increasing the strict controls on cattle movements, while letting the problem in the badger population spiral out of control.

"Each night there are tens of thousands of uncontrolled badger movements between farms, and there is no doubt in my mind that badgers are the main cause of the spread of the disease.

"The English badger culling trials have succeeded in reducing TB incidents in the trial areas by 54% yet they have not wiped out badgers from those areas. They have simply reduced their numbers to an acceptable level which has also led to positive environmental benefits such as increases in hedgehog numbers.

"Even if badger numbers were significantly reduced in the pilot area this would still allow healthy vaccinated badgers to be re-introduced, achieving healthy cattle and wildlife populations."

Mr Vaughan also called on the Minister to stand firm if animal rights groups launch a judicial review.

"The Minister has previously faced legal challenges and defended the current cattle testing regime, and she must do the same now in terms of defending moves to control the disease in wildlife. Commonsense must prevail.

"This is a dangerous disease that is starting to be seen at increasing levels in pets and other domestic animals, including llamas and goats. It has also been found increasingly in humans, and we therefore need to tackle it.

"We have worked relentlessly for many years for a return to commonsense. It previously took decades to rid our herds of this disease and we are only now starting out on a journey of disease eradication.

"The farming industry must have patience and fully support this programme."


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FUW LEADER URGES UK MINISTER NOT TO PULL PUNCHES OVER EID

Welsh farmers’ strong objections to EU plans to introduce electronic identification (EID) of sheep were today firmly underlined to Defra Farming and the Environment Minister Jane Kennedy by the Farmers’ Union of Wales deputy president Emyr Jones.

Mr Jones met the Minister in Brussels shortly before the EU’s Council of Agricultural Ministers discussed a call by the Hungarian government for sheep EID to be voluntary rather than compulsory from December 31, 2009.

"I made it clear to the Minister that she should not pull any punches in showing her support for Hungary's proposal," said Mr Jones, of Bala.

"There is now an almost unanimous acceptance across Europe that the technology has serious problems associated with it in terms of implementing the Regulation on farms and in markets and slaughterhouses, yet some Member States are suggesting that making it a legal requirement is a good way of encouraging companies to improve the technology."In my mind that is like forcing people to drive cars that have failed their MoTs, and is completely unacceptable when we are talking about animal health and welfare and disease control, not to mention the financial consequences of forcing people to use a costly technology that is not fit for purpose."

"The latest statistics show that sheep numbers in Wales fell by around 10% between 2007 and 2008, while total EU sheep production fell by around 2.5% during the same period."For many producers this Regulation is likely to be the final straw, resulting in further reductions in flock sizes, which in turn threatens the viability of the entire supply chain, especially in Wales," Mr Jones added.


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FUW REMAINS STRONGLY OPPOSED TO EID, SAYS PRESIDENT

The Farmers’ Union of Wales remains strongly opposed to the controversial introduction next year of electronic identification (EID) of sheep, the union’s president said today.

"We oppose this legislation and are committed to fighting it until the bitter end," Gareth Vaughan told county delegates during the union’s quarterly grand council meeting in Aberystwyth.

He said among the many topics of conversation throughout Wales’ rural communities, the subject of sheep EID was top of the agenda. "It is the one subject that is guaranteed to get our blood pressure up.

"And this message was recently made clear by the chairman of the union’s hill farming committee at a recent meeting with top officials from the European Commission and the Joint Research Council.

"However, unlike other farming organisations I do not intend to raise expectations unnecessarily on this issue. Our chances of winning a reprieve grow ever dimmer and, with January 2010 rapidly approaching, we must face up to the possibility that we will not receive the support from other Member States that is needed to reverse the decision.

"The crux of the matter is that we have been successful in persuading the Rural Affairs Minister in Cardiff that this law is impractical, and we have also persuaded Defra Minister Hilary Benn not to support EID.

"But unless Ministers from other EU countries start to recognise these concerns, there is nothing further our own governments can do.

"Nothing short of a massive U-turn by the majority of the EU's 27 Agriculture Ministers will stop this legislation coming in next year, and we therefore need to start thinking about how we will cope if the battle is lost.

"We have already won a two-year delay, and concessions that would make the legislation far less burdensome, and following tough negotiations with the Commission, there may be some more commonsense in the pipeline.

"I therefore say again, that we do not intend to give up our fight - but we will not mislead our members and give them false hope. Burying our heads in the sand, as other organisations are doing, is simply not an option - if we did that we would be failing our members."


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ASSEMBLY MINISTER SEES EID PROBLEMS FIRST HAND

ASSEMBLY Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones will be given a demonstration of the controversial sheep and goats’ electronic identification (EID) technology on Friday, February 13 on a farm at Saron, Llanwnda, near Caernarfon.

Farmers’ Union of Wales member Huw Jones' farm, Pengwern, is one of 14 farms taking part in a joint Hybu Cig Cymru-Welsh Assembly Government pilot trial into the feasibility of introducing EID to the Welsh sheep industry.

"I have been trialing the EID technology for the past 12 months and I am convinced the system is totally unworkable after 20 per cent of my flock lost their tags," said Huw Jones.

"I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to get the technology to work for me on my farm and I found that although the electronic hand-held reader reads the tags relatively well, using this type of equipment is a lengthy process and is unpractical to say the least.

"The electronic race-reader is much better in theory but in practice I found it very unreliable. I recently brought 150 ewes down from the mountain and put them through the race and the reader only recorded 108 ewes.

"Such unreliability is just not good enough. I have no doubt that the technology is not sufficiently developed to be practical for the average Welsh flock."

Alun Ffred Jones, Arfon’s Plaid Cymru AM, said: "I’m aware of the concerns regarding the EID tagging scheme and that many see it as unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy. I look forward to discussing the matter and listening to suggestions from people within the industry who will have to deal with the repercussions of the scheme’s implementation."

The visit, arranged by FUW’s Caernarfon county executive officer Gwynedd Watkin, will give the Minister the opportunity to see the technology at work at first hand.

Mr Watkin said: "The policy of EID for sheep has not been thought through properly and could ruin the financial viability of the industry.

"The technology used for EID is temperamental to say the least, even the slightest hitch with the technology could bring a livestock market or abattoir to a standstill, with major financial consequences for all concerned.

"I have invited John Lloyd Williams of Bryncir Agricultural Auction Centre and Gren Jones of Conwy Valley Meats to be present at the meeting so that the Minister can hear the concerns from all aspects of the industry."


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FUW HIGHLIGHTS EID CONCERNS TO EUROPEAN COMMISSION

The Welsh farming industry’s objections to the compulsory electronic identification (EID) of sheep were today made clear to the European Commission by Farmers’ Union of Wales hill farming committee chairman Derek Morgan.

Mr Morgan’s comments were made during a meeting with EC officials in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, organised by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Speaking after the meeting, the Llangurig sheep farmer said: "Unlike most farmers I have first hand experience of EID, having used it on a small proportion of my Welsh Mountain sheep for the past six years.

"In my six years experience, I have found that the technology is not sufficiently developed to be practical for the average Welsh flock and, even when dealing with a small number of sheep that are electronically identified, we are forced to manually record information on paper due to reliability issues with the technology.

"It’s all very well using it to record and monitor a small specialist flock, but scaling its use up for every sheep in the country is madness."

Mr Morgan also emphasised the particular problems that the Regulation would bring for Welsh businesses, highlighting the fact that 80% of Wales comprises Less Favoured land, and that Welsh farms are therefore dependent upon moving animals from the mountains into the lowlands for wintering.

"This means that Wales, out of necessity, has a particularly high number of movements which, in turn, means that we will have to invest more heavily in the technology than in other countries."

Throughout today the Commission heard a range of concerns regarding the impact of the technology on the entire sheep industry during meetings with farmers, abattoirs and livestock auctioneers.

"There are serious concerns regarding the impact that compulsory EID will have for the entire supply chain," added Mr Morgan. "Even the slightest hitch with the technology could bring a livestock market or abattoir to a standstill, with major financial consequences for all concerned.

"As upland farmers, we are particularly reliant on the market system in terms of selling animals to finishers from the lowlands and I am extremely concerned that the cost of implementing the Regulation in markets is likely to be passed on to farmers or result in market closures.

"Market closures would increase the control that the supermarkets have over the supply chain, and that would be extremely bad news for the industry."


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