Select Committee on Agriculture Memoranda

Memorandum submitted by the Farmers' Union of Wales (R 3)

  The Farmers' Union of Wales welcomes the Agriculture Committee's decision to hold an enquiry into Government research into TSEs and intensive farming. The FUW was founded in 1955 and its guiding principle is the maintenance of a viable family farm structure in Wales. In this context, sheep and cattle are vitally important to the Principality and production systems tend to be extensive in nature. Intensive farming practices and the negative perceptions caused by TSEs represent a significant challenge to the Welsh industry and the future prosperity of rural Wales.


  1.  Agriculture continues to be the backbone of the Welsh rural economy, with livestock products generating around 90 per cent of the Principality's agricultural GDP (1997 figures). By nature of its terrain, climate and farm structure, Wales is predominately a livestock producing area and the scope for viable alternative farming enterprises is limited. The livestock sector, therefore, has a more important role in the context of Welsh farming than is the case for the UK as a whole where other enterprises such as farm cropping can be more extensively practised.

  2.  Eighty per cent of the Welsh land mass is classified as Less Favoured Area which, by nature of the soil, terrain and climate is particularly difficult to farm. This land is predominately grazed by sheep and cattle and the production system is extensive by nature.

  3.  The Welsh dairy herd represents 11 per cent of the total UK herd, the beef herd represents 13 per cent of the UK national herd, and 25 per cent of the national sheep flock is located within the Principality. By contrast, the white meat sector is less significant in Wales and the move to more intensive production practices has resulted in a major decline in the number of mixed farms keeping pigs and poultry.

  4.  There are some 27,937 farm holdings in Wales (NAWAD statistical service 1997). Of this total, only 1,096 holdings keep pigs or poultry. These statistics also show that most of the Welsh pig herd is found on mixed holdings with only 94 specialist pig/poultry units. By comparison, there are some 16,117 holdings in Wales keeping sheep and 10,155 keeping beef cows.


  5.  Retrospective studies by MAFF suggest that an early clinical case of BSE occurred in Dyfed in July 1985. The annual incidence of the disease in Wales peaked in 1992, when there were 3,846 confirmed cases (out of an UK total of 37,545). The BSE inquiry report confirms that between 1986 and 20 March 1996, the total number of confirmed cases of BSE in Wales was 15,202 affecting 4,926 herds. (Annex 1)

  6.  BSE has radically changed the pattern of beef production in the UK. MLC data show that pre-1996, some 40 per cent of the beef was from calves from the dairy herd and around 20 per cent from cull cows.

  7.  By 1995, the last year before the export ban, beef exports had reached a carcase weight equivalent of 246,000 tonnes. Of this figure, approximately 20 per cent was destined for non-EU destinations with 80 per cent going to EU markets. (Annex 2)

  8.  In 1995 some 191,000 tonnes of beef were exported to other EU countries. Of this figure, over 60,000 tonnes were bone-in cow beef which cannot be exported in the foreseeable future due to the 30 month cull.

  9.  France was the largest export market for British beef prior to the ban. However, the majority of beef exported to France was bone-in cow beef, unlike the Italian market which represented the largest market for quality British beef.

  Around 80,000 tonnes of beef were exported to France in 1995, with a market value of £179 million. By contrast, the 40,000 tonnes destined for the Italian market had a market value of some £126 million.

  10.  Welsh beef market prices in 1996 were 13.4 per cent below those of 1995. Market prices in 1997 showed further deterioration and were down another 9.4 per cent. Since 1997, prices have stabilised but remain some 20 per cent below those which existed pre-1996. Consumption figures dropped considerably in 1996, but have since recovered. (Annex 3)

  11.  The appreciation of Sterling has reduced the value of all EU BSE compensatory and beef support measures since they were first introduced in 1986. At that stage, one ECU was worth 85p. The pound: Euro conversion dropped as low as 1 Euro : 57p last autumn, although there has been a slight recovery in the exchange rate in 2001.


  12.  Sheep are crucially important to Wales and contribute up to 30 per cent of the Agricultural GDP. Over five million breeding Welsh ewes qualify for Sheep Annual Premium which is a significant figure in EU terms. The Irish Republic by comparison has 4,300,000 ewes, France—7,533,000, Greece—6,155,000 and Portugal—2,250,000. The importance of sheep meat to the Welsh rural economy cannot be under-estimated, particularly as there are very few viable alternatives to sheep on Welsh LFA holdings. (Annex 4)

  13.  The SRM (Specified Risk Material) controls for sheep and goats have been introduced on a precautionary basis as a potential risk reduction rather than a risk elimination measure. BSE has never been found in the UK national flock and research relating to experimentally transmitted BSE indicates that the external signs of BSE in sheep could be similar to those of scrapie.

  14.  The SRM controls on sheep and cattle are enforced in licensed slaughter houses and cutting plants by the Meat Hygiene Service whose enforcement is audited by the State Veterinary Service. Audited results are published every month and show extremely high compliance rates (99.4 per cent for the year ended September 2000).

  15.  SRM controls have raised slaughter costs by slowing slaughter lines, lowering yields and generating more handling costs. These additional costs have been estimated at anything between one and two pounds per ewe (MCL yearbook 1999). These additional costs have been passed back to the producer and the impact on cull ewe prices in Wales has been particularly severe given the lower carcase weights of hill sheep. (Annex 5.)

  16.  Scrapie is a naturally occurring disease of sheep found in many parts of the world. The disease was first identified some 200 years ago and researchers have suggested that it possibly started in Spain and spread to the whole of western Europe. The export of breeding sheep from Britain in the early nineteenth century is thought to have resulted in the rapid spread to other countries. The incidence of scrapie in a flock appears to be related to the breed of sheep, with some being relatively resistant to the illness and others more genetically susceptible.

  17.  Concerns that scrapie may be masking the presence of BSE in the national flock have led to calls for greater surveillance and improved methods of detection. It is recognised that there is an innate resistance to TSEs in certain genotypes of sheep within all breeds. A national scrapie plan has, therefore, been developed by MAFF in consultation with industry to take full advantage of the opportunities that breeding for resistance presents.

  18.  The FUW, therefore, supports the programme of scrapie genotyping for the national sheep flock. However, this is a long term project and is likely to take more than 10 years to come to fruition. There is, therefore, a need for urgent research into an efficient, inexpensive, rapid diagnostic test for scrapie in order to rapidly identify exposed animals.


19.   Transmissible Mink Encephalopathy (TME)

  TME is rare and has largely been confined to the United States of America, although cases have also been identified in Canada, Finland, East Germany and Russia. The last incidence was in the USA in 1985 after an outbreak free period of 22 years. In scientific experiments, brain tissue from British BSE cases have been inoculated into mink. Although the mink were killed by the resulting disease, the symptoms and pathology produced were not, however, identical to TME.

20.   Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

  CWD is a rare disease of Elk, Mule Deer, Black Tailed Deer and Mule White Tailed Deer crosses in the USA. There have been one or two cases elsewhere, possibly linked to American infection. Although most of the cases have occurred in captive populations, many of the animals were originally caught in the wild and are reported not to have been fed ruminant protein. Cases have been identified in wild animals also and scientists have, therefore, assumed that it is a natural disease rather than one introduced through feed.

21.   Feline Spongiform Encephalopathy (FSE)

  FSE was first identified in Britain in 1990. Since then there have been 87 cases in Great Britain, one in Northern Ireland, one in Norway and one in Liechtenstein. Scientists believe that sufficient numbers of FSE cases have been seen and investigated to permit an association with BSE to be made.


  22.  Pigs account for only 2 per cent (£17.2 million) of the output of Welsh agriculture but, clearly, this sector is crucially important to those seriously committed to pig production and whose livelihoods depend upon the viability of the sector.

  23.  Census data in respect of June 1998 show that the total breeding herd stood at 12,335 animals, as opposed to 12,731 in the year previously. The total number of pigs also dropped from a 1997 figure of 98,583 to 93,025 in 1998. (Annex 6)

  24.  The intensification of production had a major impact on the number of holdings in Wales which keep pigs. Eighty per cent of Wales is classed as Less Favoured Area and is unsuitable for growing arable crops. Competitive pressures have resulted in the concentration of intensive enterprises near to ready feed/straw supplies. These tend to be in Eastern England and the number of farms in Wales keeping pigs has declined accordingly.

  25.  Intensification of production is a global phenomenon and animal welfare standards must be harmonised accordingly. The current disparity in legislation on stalls and tethers between the UK and the EU places UK producers at a severe competitive disadvantage in the context of the EU single market.

  26.  Meat and bone-meal have been banned from use in animal feedingstuffs produced in the UK. However, British meat and bone-meal have been exported for feeding to European pigs, and pork imports are allowed to enter the country without restriction.

  27.  Several experiments have been reported of investigation into the experimental transmission of TSE to pigs. However, there have been no reports of naturally occurring TSE. Experimental work involving oral challenge from sheep brain tissue is on-going. To date, the results have been negative and over 63 months have passed since the work was first initiated.

  28.  Poultry numbers in Wales totalled 9,544,000 in 1998 as opposed to a figure of 126,458,000 in England. Of those 9.5 million birds, three quarters (7.1 million) were table chicken, 14 per cent (1.4 million) were in the egg laying flock and the remaining 3 per cent were breeding fowls. (Annex 7.)

  29.  Chickens have been challenged by parenteral and oral routes with brain material from cattle confirmed to have natural BSE (Dawson et al 1991, 1994). With regard to the parenteral study, 12 chicks were inoculated with 50 ml of 10 per cent saline suspension of pooled brain stem at one day old. A further 1 ml was inoculated when the chicks were two weeks old. No evidence of Spongiform Encephalopathy was found at the conclusion of the study. The oral study similarly resulted in negative results.

  30.  A report by the Working Group for the Scientific Steering Committee of the European Commission, on 19 September 1999, concluded that, to date, no experiments had been able to show that pigs, poultry and fish could be infected with TSE through the oral route.


  The agricultural industry in Wales is totally dependent on the livestock sector. BSE has had a major economic impact on beef farmers, and press speculation over TSEs in sheep has also undermined consumer confidence in lamb. The review of BSE controls conducted by the Food Standards Agency concluded that the annual cost to the industry of these controls stood at £127 million. £95 million of this loss stemmed from the Over Thirty Months Rule, £14 million from the feed ban, and £18 million from SRM controls. These figures fail to take into account the additional costs which stem from the ban on the export of live animals which has effectively rendered dairy cross calves worthless.

  Given this background, it is imperative that diagnostic tests are introduced as a matter of urgency. The Food Standards Agency review of BSE controls concludes that "real time test for TSEs of proven efficacy at clinical and sub-clinical levels in sheep and cattle could form the basis of future risk management. For example, all TSE positive animals could then be eliminated from the food chain". In the light of the increasing incidence of BSE in other EU Member States and the fact that UK farmers must operate within the confines of the Common Agricultural Policy/Single Market, it is essential that research work is pooled at a European level and all future testing procedures are implemented equally within the European Union.

23 January 2001

Annex 1


Total No.
of herds
No. of BSE-affected herdsCumulative incidence
England60,83725,506 41.93%
Wales16,7474,926 29.41%
Scotland14,4833,104 21.43%
Great Britain92,067 35,53636.43%
Northern Ireland28,187 1,1454.06%

  Source: NAWAD.

Annex 2

CountryTonnes (×1000) £ million
Total EU191.0 457.0
South Africa27.123.8
Total Non-EU55.0 63.0
Grand Total246.0520.0

  Source:   HM Customs and Excise.

Annex 3

(Kg per head)1994 19951996 19971998
Beef and Veal16.215.4 12.614.415.1
Mutton and Lamb5.96.1
Poultry24.825.4 26.726.327.7
Total Meat68.267.4 66.768.772.0

** Excludes offal, imported meat products, rabbit and game.

Source:   MLC.


19911992 19931994 199519961997 1998

Breeding Pigs
Sows in Pig7,2956,968 7,4266,6526,584 6,4566,5946,564
Gilts in Pig1,7422,140 1,6191,6291,150 1,3991,8371,194
Other sows (either being suckled, or dry sows being kept for further breeding) 2,9132,9903,297 3,1272,5332,769 2,5552,646
Total breeding herd11,950 12,09812,34211,408 10,26710,62410,986 10,404
Boars being used for service831 834847769 632670730 710
Gilts 50kg (110lb) and over, not yet in pig but expected to be used for breeding 1,5941,5991,590 1,3511,3741,555 1,0151,221
Total breeding pigs14,375 14,53114,77913,528 12,27312,84912,731 12,335
All other pigs
Barren sows for fattening289 209205208 186121129 210
Pigs weighing110kg (240lb) and over 1,173 1,668 1,572 1,463 653 1,427 1,720 698
80kg (175lb) and under 110kg (240lb) 9,251 9,121 9,530 8,692 7,844 9,233 6,934 7,354
50kg (110lb) and under 80kg (175lb) 18,079 18,895 19,404 18,967 16,573 19,661 18,038 19,702
20kg (45lb) and under 50kg (110lb) 30,119 31,794 30,776 27,245 28,640 27,427 27,751 24,737
under 20kg (45lb) 29,839 28,137 31,596 29,206 24,595 28,106 31,272 27,989
Total all other pigs 8,461 89,615 92,878 85,573 78,305 85,855 85,723 80,480
Total pigs








  Figures include main and minor holdings only. Weights are liveweight.

  Source:   Welsh agricultural Statistics 1999.

Annex 7



United Kingdom

For producing eggs for eating:
Growing pullets up to point of lay





Birds in laying flock (including those in moult) 1,038.8 23,624.5 2,257.3 2,562.1 29,482.7
Laying Flock




For breeding:
Layer and broiler breeders (including grandparents & growing pullets)



Cocks46.5714.8 137.4
Total breeding flock333.3 5,974.21,377.42,334.5 10,019.4
Table chicken7,087.372,771.1 9,531.48,854.198,243.5
Total fowls8,791.2110,417.0 13,804.514,596.4147,609.0
Ducks and Geese26.92,744.3 20.546.32,838.1
All other poultry (including turkeys & gunea fowl) 725.913,297.388.3 527.914,639.4
Total Poultry9,544.0126,458.7 13,913.315,170.6165,086.5

  Source: National Assembly for Wales, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, Dept of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland, Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department.

  Notes:   The results shown include estimates for minor holdings.

Day old to point of lay in Northern Ireland and Scotland, day old to 20 weeks of age in England and Wales.

Includes guinea fowl in Scotland.

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