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
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.
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, France7,533,000, Greece6,155,000
and Portugal2,250,000. 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
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.
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
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
A COMPARISON OF CUMULATIVE HERD INCIDENCE
OF BSE IN ENGLAND, WALES,
SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND, UP TO 20
|No. of BSE-affected herds||Cumulative incidence
BRITISH BEEF EXPORTS IN 1995
Source: HM Customs and Excise.
ESTIMATED MEAT CONSUMPTION PER HEAD IN THE UK** 1994-98
|(Kg per head)||1994
|Beef and Veal||16.2||15.4
|Mutton and Lamb||5.9||6.1
** Excludes offal, imported meat products, rabbit and game.
BREEDING PIGS IN WALES
|Sows in Pig||7,295||6,968
|Gilts in Pig||1,742||2,140
|Other sows (either being suckled, or dry sows being kept for further breeding)
|Total breeding herd||11,950
|Boars being used for service||831
|Gilts 50kg (110lb) and over, not yet in pig but expected to be used for breeding
|Total breeding pigs||14,375
|All other pigs||
|Barren sows for fattening||289
|Pigs weighing110kg (240lb) and over||
|80kg (175lb) and under 110kg (240lb)||
|50kg (110lb) and under 80kg (175lb)||
|20kg (45lb) and under 50kg (110lb)||
|under 20kg (45lb)||
|Total all other pigs||
Figures include main and minor holdings only. Weights are
Source: Welsh agricultural Statistics 1999.
WELSH POULTRY NUMBERS
For producing eggs for eating:
Growing pullets up to point of lay
|Birds in laying flock (including those in moult)
Layer and broiler breeders (including grandparents & growing pullets)
|Total breeding flock||333.3
|Ducks and Geese||26.9||2,744.3
|All other poultry (including turkeys & gunea fowl)
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
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.