The Farmers’ Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan revealed today he was duty bound to condemn the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to scrap the Tir Mynydd scheme of payments to farmers within Less Favoured Areas.
"While the Union commends the position taken by the Assembly on Bovine TB, there is one recent WAG decision that we cannot condone and that is the one to abandon Tir Mynydd," Mr Vaughan told the union’s annual general meeting in Aberystwyth.
"This decision brings to an end a policy based upon principles established more than sixty years ago under the 1946 Hill Farming Act - principles that recognise the fundamental importance of maintaining Wales’s farming and rural communities in order to avoid deprivation, land abandonment, and rural depopulation.
"The abandonment of those principles in favour of environmental measures is a position that our members fundamentally oppose, whether changes in focus are driven by the European Commission or by the Assembly Government, and over recent weeks I have been approached by countless numbers of farmers who believe that their businesses and communities are threatened by the recent decision.
"The truth of the matter is that rural populations are an intrinsic part of the environment - they have created the environment. They play a key role in maintaining the environment. And the diversity of wildlife and biodiversity that we enjoy exists not in spite of farming, but because of farming."
Mr Vaughan stressed that the environment relied upon farming families and the majority of farming families relied significantly on the Tir Mynydd scheme, one of five agri-environment schemes in Wales due to be replaced by one scheme called Glastir from 2012.
"These families may well be threatened unless the new Glastir scheme is carefully crafted in a way that ensures that it is not overly prescriptive or bureaucratic and, above all else, fills the gulf created by the abandonment of half a century of handicap payments.
"We also have major concerns about the practicality for the Assembly of implementing the Glastir scheme, and I sincerely hope that sufficient staff will be available to produce perhaps as many as sixteen thousand detailed farm maps and agreements, while undertaking as many as 65 private interviews with farmers every single working day during the transition period.
"As part of the stakeholder group that will help formulate the Glastir scheme, the union is of course committed to doing all it can to ensure that Glastir is as practical and beneficial as is possible.
"However, be in no doubt that the FUW, like thousands of farmers across Wales, has major concerns regarding the Glastir scheme and the impact it will have on our rural communities. I am duty bound to condemn the decision to abolish Tir Mynydd."
Mr Vaughan reminded delegates there was no animal disease in Wales more concerning than bovine TB which costs the industry and taxpayers millions of pounds each year, and causes untold stress and suffering for all concerned.
"Following years of lobbying by the FUW, the Welsh Assembly Government and members from all political parties have taken the decision to stand shoulder to shoulder on the issue of TB in badgers, and this sends out a clear lesson in maturity and honesty to those amongst our English neighbours who threaten to undermine the efficacy of future Welsh and UK TB control measures.
"For too many years politicians have buried uncomfortable truths about TB in wildlife, pandering to animal rights extremists who, through threats and misinformation, have managed to steer government policy away from what is in the best interests of human health and the taxpayer.
"In Wales, such attempts to corrupt the democratic process are more common than ever - for example, in one leaflet that has been widely distributed by Badger Watch and Rescue Dyfed, no less than eight out of ten so called ‘answers’ to commonly asked questions are either grossly misleading or plain untrue.
"Such campaigns are deliberately designed to mislead members of the general public into lobbying against a badger cull, and I therefore hope that the Assembly’s Rural Affairs Minister and her colleagues will stand up to such disgraceful campaigns of misinformation.
"Because what has been shown in Wales is that, by grasping the nettle, by refusing to allow animal rights extremists to divide and conquer, and by being honest with the general public about the role that badgers play in transmitting TB, ways forward can be found that will reduce incidences of disease in cattle and wildlife.
"I therefore, once again, congratulate the majority of National Assembly Members, the Welsh Assembly Government, and, in particular, the Minister for Rural Affairs for the courageous stance that has been taken on TB.
"That stance stands in stark contrast to the cowardly approach that has been adopted in England - an approach based on cowering in the face of intimidation from animal rights extremists and hiding behind one ridiculously decisive statement published in the Final Report of the Independent Science Group on TB that is an embarrassment to the scientific community, and is contradicted by scientific evidence from Great Britain and around the globe.
"The Defra approach not only shows a disregard for animal and human health, but also poses a wider risk of TB transmission from wildlife and the environment, as shown by the recent escalation of TB cases in humans and animals - and all in a world in which the vaccination of children against tuberculosis is no longer routine.
"I therefore, on behalf of our cross border farms, on behalf of farmers throughout the UK, and on behalf of the future health of our cattle, our wildlife, and our progeny, call on Defra to do the honourable thing with regard to TB, rather than risk dragging the whole of the UK down."