Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 8

Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales (J9)

INTRODUCTION

  The NFU welcomes the opportunity to submit further written evidence to the Agriculture Committee as part of its follow-up to sessions held in 1998-99 on Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis. The NFU represents over 60,000 farmers and growers.

  In 1996, 1,670 herds were under restriction. By the end of 1999 this had increased to 2,446, an increase of 46 per cent. Latest industry figures demonstrate that as many as 2.9 per cent of herds are now under restriction. Indeed, figures for particular counties are even more startling. In Herefordshire, figures to June 2000 show 68 confirmed new incidents, almost as many as in the whole of 1997. In Gloucestershire, over 10 per cent of cattle herds are now subject to a TB2 herd movement restriction.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE KREBS REPORT

  The NFU has remained supportive of the recommendations of the Krebs Report which are being implemented by the ISG under Professor Bourne. The culling trials, which form a central part of the recommendations, will determine scientifically the extent of the link between TB in badgers and cattle. It is hoped that the findings of the trials will point to a strategy leading to the elimination of M. Bovis from both species.

  In our previous submission, the NFU noted that it was essential that decisive action be taken as early as possible. While the Krebs Report was completed in 1998, it has taken until October 2000 for all 10 trial areas recommended by the report to be announced. To date, proactive culling has taken place in only five of the areas, and reactive culling in three.

  This delay was criticised as disappointing and frustrating in the ISG's Second Report. A number of factors have contributed to the delay. Sabotage by those acting in the name of conservation has hampered the implementation of the trials. Some of the threats received by farmers in trial areas have led to some reluctance to participate. These problems are difficult to counter, but there has equally been a lack of resources invested in the exercise. Many feel that poor remuneration discourages potential staff and that in some of the triplets, there has been an inadequate level of protection by law enforcement agencies.

  Delays to implementing the trials are costly: they inevitably delay the outcome of the trial itself. The NFU therefore recommends that the government invests sufficient resources in the exercise to maintain the shortest possible timetable for completion of the trials.

  The results of the first trials should be available some time before the end of the exercise itself. If the results of the early trials demonstrate strongly that a particular course of action will control TB in cattle, it is imperative that action is taken on the basis of the initial findings rather than waiting for the outcome of all 10 triplets.

TB FORUM

  In September 1999, MAFF established an industry TB Forum that brought together the interests of the Government, vets, welfare groups and farmers to discuss what additional measures could be recommended to tackle the growing problem of TB in cattle and badgers. The NFU had pressed MAFF to set up such a forum with a view to discussing the issues fairly and objectively, in an apolitical environment.

  However, it is clear to us that some of the parties that have come to the Forum have maintained entrenched positions that have hampered progress on a number of initiatives that have come before the Forum. Moreover, because of the positions of certain conservation groups, the Forum has been precluded from discussing the key issue of TB in badgers. This has rendered the Forum as little more than a talking shop left to consider remedial husbandry and farm management measures that are likely to be of limited benefit. The very fact that most of the measures aim to separate cattle and badgers is evidence that all parties consider TB in badgers to be a problem. But without the desire to consider holistic approaches to the problem, the Forum has now become a costly diversion. The desperation of NFU members has regrettably led the NFU to leave the Forum. We will continue to engage directly with Government in order to represent the interests of our members.

HUSBANDRY METHODS

  The Forum has discussed at length the effects of animal husbandry in protecting cattle from TB. Throughout, the NFU has played a pivotal role in the debate and has participated in the Independent Husbandry Panel set up by the Forum to consider husbandry and management practices. The report of the panel compiled in detail the range of literature on the subject and provides a useful reference point for producers, vest and consultants on measures that may have an impact.

  In our experience, farmers have already taken great strides to adjust their husbandry and management techniques to cope with the effects of TB in their herds. Moreover, farm assurance schemes in the beef and dairy sectors are actively promoting the highest standards of herd health and disease prevention. Yet there are moves within the Forum to compel producers to adopt even tighter measures with a view to controlling the disease. This is a dangerous development as:

    (a)  the recommendations of the Husbandry Panel are backed up by little empirical evidence;

    (b)  producers who have taken every conceivable step to prevent TB in their herd have still suffered breakdowns. The ability of farmers to implement practical measures to separate cattle and badgers is very limited;

    (c)  the incomes of both beef and dairy farmers are severely depressed. Such measures are bound to unnecessarily exacerbate the costs imposed on producers;

    (d)  the money invested in husbandry and management measures will not provide a solution to the problem.

  There is great merit in making the results of research work available and of encouraging good management practices. But this should never be made a condition of production nor of receiving compensation for a problem which is out of the control of ordinary farmers.

COMPENSATION

  The NFU welcomed the decision in 1998 to increase the compensation paid for reactors to 100 per cent of the market value of the animal. Since then, we have continued to press Government for financial assistance to offset some of the consequential losses that arise as a result of TB herd movement restrictions. NFU figures illustrated that the average cost to all farms under herd movement restrictions is an additional £36,000.

  Consequential costs/losses include loss of milk production, inability to sell animals at seasonal intervals, increased feed, labour and housing costs, loss of subsidy claims and increased milk quota costs. In view of the current state of the livestock sector, these are costs that the beef and dairy industries can ill-afford.

  The NFU continues to urge Government to compensate in full for the consequential losses of dairy and beef producers. However, in view of budget limitations, we would welcome further action on the following fronts:

    —  financial assistance for capital costs incurred in adapting businesses to cope with herd movement restrictions;

    —  sufficient discretion be allowed by Divisional Veterinary Managers to allow producers to restock following the removal of infected animals from cattle herds;

    —  further consideration of measures or outlets to allow producers to move animals off farms under restriction;

    —  a review of temporary allocations of milk quota by MAFF to producers under herd movement restriction, to allow increased allocations to producers and to increase the level of certainty of obtaining an award;

    —  reconsideration of the current force majeure procedures which pose problems for producers who are under restriction from claiming suckler cow premium, beef special premium and extensification premium payments.

FURTHER ACTION OUTSIDE OF TRIAL AREAS

  The desperation of producers has never been more acute. It is imperative that a holistic strategy is taken now to try and control the disease. TB in cattle is controlled by a strict testing and culling regime. However, these conditions are not applied to a significant wildlife source, primarily badgers. The NFU draws the attention of the Agriculture Committee to the proposals that we submitted to it in 1999.

  The proposals contained in the supplementary written evidence to the Agriculture Committee inquiry on badgers and bovine TB included, amongst others, the following elements:

    1.  Testing of contiguous farms to a new herd outbreak to establish the extent of an outbreak and its epicentre.

    2.  Conducting a wildlife survey following a second positive test to detect whether a wildlife species such as badgers is carrying a residual infection.

    3.  Where a wildlife survey points to a probable source of infection, removal operations of the source should take place after a third positive test.

  Some 18 months following the submission of these proposals, producers have yet to see any concrete action being taken in TB hotspots outside of the Krebs trial areas. The ISG noted in its Second Report that it did not recommend wildlife removal operations along the lines of those recommended by the NFU as it could compromise the results of the trials. Now that all 10 trial areas have been defined, action taken separately and outside of the trial areas could not have any impact on the trials themselves.

CONCLUSIONS

  The incidence of TB in cattle continues to increase at an alarming rate. Coupled with this, agricultural incomes are at historically low levels.

  The NFU therefore demands that further action be taken to:

    —  speed up the completion of the Krebs trials;

    —  alleviate the costs of herd movement restrictions on producers;

    —  control the disease in hotspot areas outside of the trials.

26 October 2000


 
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