Pembrokeshire farmers raise TB concerns with Assembly member
Host farmer William Prichard said how bovine TB has impacted on his family’s dairy farming business, which comprises 1,200 milking cows and 800 young stock run on four separate units and employing 13 full time staff in north Pembrokeshire.
The farm went under TB movement restrictions in October 2011 and since then they have been required to test all their cattle every 60 days. During that time over 11,250 individual cattle tests have been carried out which have only disclosed one TB reactor with only a further 13 animals removed from the farm as inconclusive results to the test.
The Prichard family estimate that the cost to their business associated with having to keep more cattle on farm due to movement restrictions, combined with the additional labour costs and lack of suitable marketing outlets for selling livestock from TB restricted farm, comes to a staggering £216,000 per annum. William Prichard said, “Since October 2011 only 0.1% of the TB tests carried out on the farm have led to the removal of cattle and yet we’re counting the severe financial cost of the disease on our business. We do not have a major TB problem on our farm but TB is a major problem for our business.”
Pembrokeshire NFU Cymru officeholders also raised their concerns about the Welsh Government decision to remove TB pre-movement testing exemptions for cattle that move between blocks of land within a farmer’s Sole Occupancy Authority (SOA) from the end of September this year.
Pembrokeshire NFU Cymru County Chairman Mike Plumb said, “The reality is that many farms in Pembrokeshire and in other parts of Wales are now run on multiple premises with separate blocks of land that are within the sole management and control of a farm business and these are often located within relatively short distances.
"This proposed move by Welsh Government to remove the exemption for TB pre-movement testing in these circumstances will only serve to add significant financial costs for many cattle keepers and will also add unnecessary complexity and red tape. We urge Welsh Government to reconsider their stance and to look again at the potential practical implications and challenges that this policy move will have on the day-to-day operation of many farming businesses.”
Mr Plumb concluded, “Bovine TB is one of the biggest challenges facing the agricultural industry in the county and we’re grateful to our local AM for meeting with us to hear our concerns. The agricultural industry forms the backbone of the rural economy and sustains the vast majority of communities here in Pembrokeshire.
"As farmers we urge Paul Davies and his fellow Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay to challenge the Welsh Government to deliver policies that will help and support farming and food production here in Pembrokeshire and in the rest of Wales.”
In early April the Government published the Independent Expert Panel’s report into the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of the two pilot badger culls that took place in Gloucestershire and Somerset last year as part of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB. The IEP findings showed that the pilots had failed to meet the criteria for effectiveness overall (ie in terms of the number of badgers removed) and that the method of controlled shooting had failed to meet the criteria for humaneness.
The Government announced that badger culling would not be rolled out to other areas but that the pilot culls would continue in Gloucestershire and Somerset to complete the four years of culling set out in the original plans. Defra also announced that improvements would be made to the pilot culls.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) welcomed the Government’s decision not to roll out badger culling using controlled shooting to new areas and is calling for further detail and assurances before it could support the continuation of the pilots later this year.
Commenting, BVA President Robin Hargreaves said: “BVA has always been clear that we could not support the roll out of controlled shooting as a method to cull badgers if it was found to be inhumane or ineffective, and we therefore welcome the Government’s decision not to roll out the cull to new areas.
“However, we must also take a position that will deliver the best possible outcomes for disease control and we know from evidence in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial that if culling in the pilot areas is stopped now there is a significant risk that this will lead to an increase in TB in cattle.
“In reaching our position we have carefully weighed up both the scientific evidence and ethical arguments, as well as considering the views of our individual members and specialist divisions.
“It is absolutely essential that significant changes are made to the pilot culls to address the issues of effectiveness and humaneness. The IEP has made strong recommendations to Defra and we not only urge Defra to implement them all fully but will be looking for detailed assurances of how this will be done before deciding whether we could support the continuation.
“We also believe that robust monitoring and collation of results, and independent analysis and auditing by a non-governmental body is imperative.
“We will be meeting with Defra as soon as possible to discuss all of these issues.”
Beef and dairy farmers whose cattle were slaughtered due to TB could face substantial tax bills, according to agricultural accountants.
Last year, almost 33,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered, with some farmers losing a large proportion of their herd.
Aside from the emotional and financial stresses involved, losing large numbers of animals can also result in a steep hike in tax, said Andrew Vickery, head of rural services at Old Mill.
“The problem occurs when the compensation for those cattle is paid, as it could fall into a different financial year to the purchase of replacement animals,”.
“If animals are held in a producer’s accounts as trading stock rather than on the herd basis, the compensation can lead to an abnormal profit, potentially turning into to a large tax liability.”
Where more than 20% of a ‘production herd’ is slaughtered due to disease, farmers running their accounts on the herd basis only have to bring compensation receipts into the accounts when the corresponding replacement animals join the herd, said Vickery.
“This has considerable tax advantages over the alternative trading system.”
Fortunately for farmers who hold animals as trading stock, they can retrospectively change their accounts to the herd basis from the beginning of the year in which the compensation is due, where more than 20% of a herd is slaughtered.
“This is potentially very useful for those not already on the herd basis who might be affected.”
Vets currently involved in TB testing have shown interest in covering an average of 5% more cattle than they do now, and increasing the proportion of non-client farms they test from 7% currently to 19%. That's according to interim findings of an online survey being carried out in preparation for likely changes later this year to the way TB testing is managed.
The survey also asks holders of Official Veterinarian status (OVs) for ways they would like to see the current system improved upon. One such indication to date is that 47.5% of OV participants are dissatisfied about lack of advance notice of known difficult test conditions on farms they haven't attended before: Poor cattle handling facilities or other potentially recurring difficulties experienced at previous tests, for example.
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