COMMENTS made by a mid and west Wales MS on bovine TB have been described as ‘deplorable, insensitive and shocking’.
A debate was held in the Senedd on Tuesday on bovine TB in Wales, where MSs heard that the current policy was having a negative effect on farmers.
Samuel Kurtz said latest statistics show a two per cent decline in the number of animals slaughtered in Wales due to TB which “pales” compared with a 21 per cent decline in England.
The Conservatives’ shadow rural affairs minister argued that Wales is the poorest performer in Great Britain when it comes to tackling bovine TB.
He told MSs: “I wonder what they are doing in England that we’re not doing here in Wales that is helping to eradicate TB – [it’s] amazing that the scientific data is ignored when it’s politically inconvenient.
“This decrease in Wales comes off the back of four years of increases to the number of cattle slaughtered … meaning that figures are decreasing from a high starting point.”
Lesley Griffiths, the rural affairs minister, stressed that long-term trends show fewer affected herds and new incidents in Wales.
Responding to claims that political ideology is being prioritised over scientific evidence, she said the Welsh Government is committed to not culling badgers.
Labour MS for mid and west Wales, which includes Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys and parts of Gwynedd, Joyce Watson, said opposition MSs are intent on killing badgers.
She added: “But if we’re talking about a rethink, Minister, have you looked at any farms that have perpetual TB status, and have you considered the question of whether those particular farms should be dairy farms at all? Because if it is the case that they are in perpetual TB infection status, surely they need to find another business.”
In the letter, NFU Cymru Bovine TB Focus Group Chairman Roger Lewis reacted to the comments, saying: “I was truly saddened and disappointed to hear your insensitive comments in the Senedd following the statement made by Minister Lesley Griffiths in relation to the Bovine TB Eradication Programme.
"I am struggling to put into words my frustration that a Member of the Senedd elected to represent Mid & West Wales could make such deplorable comments, so lacking in empathy and respect for the farming families in your constituency going through the emotional hell of dealing with an outbreak of bovine TB on their farm.
“Your suggestion that these families, many of whom are suffering persistent bovine TB breakdowns despite adhering to strict veterinary and scientific advice, should just walk away and find another business is – frankly – shocking.
“I invite you to spend a day with us to learn more about this work. A visit would also provide you with the opportunity to meet some of the farming families who are determined to find a way to rid this disease from our countryside and certainly have no intention of walking away and finding something else to do, as you suggested yesterday.”
Mr Kurtz raised concerns about the mental anguish farmers have to go through, particularly with the slaughter of in-calf cows and heifers.
“Not allowing these animals to calve with dignity before being culled places a huge mental strain on our farmers,” said the Carmarthern West and South Pembrokeshire MS.
“I've called repeatedly for flexibility, as there is in England, to allow farmers the choice to either cull the infected dam whilst in calf, or to allow them to isolate the dam, allowing it to calve before being culled.
“This would not be a seismic change in policy, but it would be a seismic change to the mental well-being of farmers, who suffer the emotional and physical effects of seeing pregnant cows slaughtered and the calves drowning, suffocating in their mothers' wombs.”
Jane Dodds, leader of the Lib Dems in Wales, also raised concerns about “barbaric” accounts of in-calf heifers being slaughtered on farms.
Ms Griffiths told the Senedd she is acutely aware of the impact of bovine TB on the health and wellbeing of farmers, saying it is of great concern.
She added that the Welsh Government works with those who specialise in supporting farmers in crisis, such as Farm Community Network, Tir Dewi and the DPJ Foundation.
She said: “I've heard and listened to concerns about on-farm slaughter policy, specifically regarding heavily pregnant cows and heifers, which can be incredibly distressing to witness.
“Whilst the slaughter … is sometimes unavoidable, I've asked officials to look again at how this situation is managed and the technical advisory group, once established, will consider the issue as a matter of urgency.”
Mabon ap Gwynfor, for Plaid Cymru, was disappointed to hear the minister “complaining” about overspends on reimbursement for slaughtered cattle.
He told the chamber: “If effective steps had been taken and implemented sooner to tackle TB, then this wouldn't be an issue – the money wouldn't have to be spent.”
Ms Griffiths said she was not complaining about compensation, stressing that it’s right to compensate farmers.
She told the meeting on Tuesday, 14 November: “I am committed to reimbursing farmers a reasonable sum for cattle slaughtered because of TB.
“However, we are continually overspending against our TB compensation budget, which is unsustainable to the taxpayer, particularly in the current economic climate.
“The TB payments question is complex, and we want to explore options through further engagement with industry.”
In March, the Welsh Government published a refreshed delivery plan setting out its approach to TB eradication over the next five years.