8. Statement by the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd: Controlling BVD in cattle and scab in sheep in Wales

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 5:53 pm on 31 January 2023.

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Photo of Mabon ap Gwynfor Mabon ap Gwynfor Plaid Cymru 5:53, 31 January 2023


Thank you to the Minister for her statement. It's a long-awaited statement, and whilst there is much to be welcomed, I'm sorry to say that I'm also disappointed.

If I could start with BVD. BVD, as we've heard, is one of the greatest challenges facing the cattle sector in Wales, and indeed, across the UK. There are far too many of our cattle suffering this terrible disease, and it leads to concern about animal welfare, the welfare of rural businesses, and the well-being of our farmers and their families. But the truth is that the veterinary sector tell me that it's also something relatively easy to tackle. 

Ten million pounds has already been spent to tackle this disease. As the Minister mentioned, a large percentage—over 80 per cent—of herds have been treated. But I think it was Professor George Gunn, who is an expert in veterinary epidemiology, who said that the key to the success of any policy in tackling BVD is momentum. Unfortunately, from what I can see today, that momentum, which had been generated here in Wales, will come to an end. The £10 million of European funding will go to waste unless there is continuity here. The only real way of ensuring the continued success of this programme is through legislating, as we've heard. We need legislation in order to ensure that farmers continue to test. That's what I, vets and farmers were hoping to hear today. And although I welcome the ambition here, there is a very real risk that we will lose momentum unless we see a Bill introduced to this place

You mentioned building on the successes of the voluntary phase of the BVD project and moving on to the next phase. But the statement comes to an end abruptly there. I know that vets and farmers listening will be very frustrated indeed today, because where is the detail about the next phase? We don't know. I wonder if the Minister could tell us what the details of the next phase are, and how we're going to build on this work. How does the Minister expect farmers to continue to test on a voluntary basis? Testing costs money, of course. Where will that money come from for these tests? For how long will the next phase be in place? But more importantly, when can we expect a Bill in order to require this? Can we at least have a clear timetable for such legislation, please?

Finally, in turning to sheep scab, this is a positive development and I welcome it. But again, there is a fundamental weakness, which is the lack of statutory support for plans to tackle sheep scab. In response to a question from me some months ago on the pledge to give £5 million to a scheme to tackle sheep scab, the Minister said in her response that she had given a substantial amount of money, but that COVID had interrupted the programme. I understand that that wasn't entirely right at the time, and perhaps the Minister misspoke. So, could the Minister today confirm if the £4.5 million announced today is the same money as was previously announced, and, therefore, that it's not new funding, it's a restatement of something that's previously been stated, or is this entirely new funding?

Finally, the recent announcement by NRW that they are to increase the fees to get rid of sheep dip to 10 times the current fee has horrified farmers, and indeed, is likely to lead to reduced dipping, which will harm farms, rural businesses and animal welfare. This would be contrary to any ambition by the Government to tackle sheep scab. In the consultation, there was talk that NRW was willing to allow some of the fees to be reduced to control disease. So, will the Minister persuade NRW to ensure that this is done across the board for all farms dealing with sheep, in order to enable farmers to continue to dip safely, and to secure the welfare of their herds?