It is imperative the problematic quarantine units (QUs) used by Welsh farmers are adapted into a more cost-effective, less bureaucratic and more attractive system, says the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW).
This reaction follows the Welsh government’s publication on Monday (10 December) of the recommendations of a review into the QU scheme.
The QU scheme was introduced in September 2017 as a replacement to isolation facilities as the optional exemption to the six-day standstill rule, which was established after the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001.
The rule, which aims to safeguard the biosecurity of farms and prevent the spread of disease, states after animals are brought on to the holding, no livestock can be moved on or off for six days.
Under the QU scheme, a designated area must be created on farm where livestock can be isolated for six days upon arrival. This means other animals can be moved off the main holding while incoming animals observe the six-day standstill requirements.
Movements into QUs must be reported within 24 hours via the Cattle Tracing System or EIDCymru for sheep and goats. Movements out of QUs to the main holding must be reported within three days.
However, farm unions have spoken out against the QU scheme because of the cost and impracticalities, such as the mandatory electronic reports being unworkable for those with poor or no internet access.
A QU costs £172.80 to cover the certification process, which remains valid for 18 months.
The review has identified nine recommendations for improving the scheme. Before the end of this year, the review recommends communications between the Welsh government and stakeholders must be improved through future events and simplified guidance.
In addition, it recommends QU guidance in relation to bovine TB should be revisited and clarified.
Currently the TB guidance states the main holding and any QU is treated as one unit, so movement controls and TB testing requirements apply to both. Only cattle that have tested negative for TB within 60 days of the herd test are allowed in a QU.
Further review recommendations
The review makes seven further recommendations to be considered in the new year.
- Explore the possibility of amending the 24-hour reporting rule
- Explore the possibility of developing a grant scheme for QU certification to help farmers meet the initial cost of certification
- Explore the possibility of group farm certification and renewal inspections by the certification body
- Assess whether the certification body can combine QU visits with other visits to reduce costs
- Allow greater discretion for QU inspectors when considering compliance with requirements (for example, the use of natural barriers around QUs)
- Ask the certification body to streamline the renewal inspection process for QUs
- Continue to collect animal movement data concerning animal movements from Welsh holdings to agricultural shows
Rural affairs secretary Lesley Griffiths said: “I hope these recommendations go some way to address concerns and I am confident they will help improve the QU system, which plays such an important role in minimising the spread of disease.”
The FUW has been an outspoken critic of the costs and strictness of the QU system.
The union said it was pleased the Welsh government has recognised that the cost and impractical nature of the scheme’s rules represent a major obstacle to farmer uptake.
Hazel Wright, FUW senior policy officer, said: “Over the past few years, the FUW has repeatedly highlighted that some of the operational requirements of QUs would preclude many individuals from establishing such units.
“It will now be imperative that the recommendations made are translated into real changes in order to develop a more cost-effective, less bureaucratic and more attractive system.”