Their determination to tackle one of farming’s biggest problems has made two women joint winners of the 2009 Farmers Weekly Farming Champion Award, sponsored by the NFU.

Welsh rural affairs minister Elin Jones and Welsh chief vet Christianne Glossop have been named winners of this prestigious accolade for their far-sighted approach to tackling bovine TB.

While producers in England have been critical of government, accusing it of dithering and procrastination, their counterparts across the border have applauded the decisiveness, commonsense and collaborative approach of these two women.

The radical policy measures they have backed, part of the Welsh Assembly’s £27m bovine TB eradication programme, include a one-off test of all herds to allow a full infection picture to be built up, plus a targeted badger cull planned for about 300 farms in Pembrokeshire.

Elin-Jones

Elin Jones has called the cull “a difficult decision and one that has not been taken lightly” – words that perhaps don’t do justice to her unswerving focus and courage in taking this position on such an emotive issue. Political careers have ended over less contentious subjects, but the woman who grew up on a farm at Llanwnnen near Lampeter remained convinced.

“What I want to see in Wales,” she explained when arguing the case for it, “is healthy cattle and healthy wildlife. This programme is comprehensive, practical and proportionate – it will tackle the disease head-on.”

Merely managing the disease via the previous measures would, added the Assembly Member for Ceredigion, be “irresponsible and unsustainable”.

This is a sentiment shared by Christianne Glossop. “Doing nothing was no longer an option.” “We have to change our mindset. We need to see TB for what it is – an infectious disease. Where we have outbreaks we need to go in, hit it hard and then clean up.

Christianne-Glossop

In Dr Glossop’s mind, the aim should be to “strike a balance between keeping farmers in business and tackling this terrible disease”.

Both women saw the growing extent of the problem. In 2007, nearly 8000 cattle were slaughtered in Wales because of the disease, compared with less than 700 in 1997. The cost of compensation was soaring and there are increasing concerns that bovine TB is spreading to humans and other animals.

Both women knew their stance would be controversial, but they took comprehensive advice, have been prepared to face criticism and pursued an urgent approach, tackling both wildlife and cattle. There is, they’ve maintained, no point in tackling the disease in cattle, while ignoring other sources of infection.

In the process, they became hugely popular with farmers and farming groups. “Pragmatic”, “proactive” and “practical” are just three of the words often used to describe Elin and Christianne’s approach to this issue.

It’s also been an example of joined-up thinking and government, scientists and farmers working together. A lesson for us all.

VIEWS

  • The Welsh approach provides an ideal blueprint for TB eradication, from which the English government can learn a lot. Christianne and Elin’s positive approach towards eradication rather than control is an inspiration to us all. Lyndon Edwards, RABDF

 

  • We’re envious of the Welsh’s robust approach to control TB. In England, we’re seemingly saying: We’ll learn to live with it. I admire both women – they have the Obama factor. Their approach is: Yes, we can. Dick Sibley, West Ridge Vet Practice, Devon

 

  • Christianne’s sharp focus and joined-up approach goes hand-in-hand with her sheer military determination to provide an industry solution to eradicate TB once and for all. Jilly Greed, NBA South West

 

  • Elin Jones and Christianne Glossop have shown real leadership in controversial circumstances to champion a critical trial for the control of TB. This is difficult political territory that needs brave leadership in the face of strong single issue pressure group opposition. Elin and Christianne are worthy winners of this award. Peter Kendall, NFU president