Welsh slam TB compensation proposals

The only fair way to compensate farmers for animals lost to bovine tuberculosis is to use the current system of independent valuation linked to a robust audit procedure, Welsh farm leaders have warned.

Compensation was little consolation to the 1848 herd owners who have had to contend with the consequential losses and personal anguish associated with a TB outbreak, said NFU Cymru.

The union issued the warning in response to a Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) consultation examining the responsibilities of herd owners, the principles of compensation and ways of encouraging good practice.

The paper suggests linking TB compensation to farm practices. But NFU Cymru president Dai Davies said there was little evidence to show which measures reduced the risk of an outbreak, particularly in areas where TB was present in wildlife.

“While we will support measures that can be proven practically on farm to reduce the incidence of TB, we have concerns with regard to a number of options proposed by WAG within this consultation paper.”

Farmers could not be expected to take on the entire responsibility for TB risk management, said Mr Davies. Measures proposed in the consultation would have a significant impact on profitability, he warned.

Some farmers in hotspot areas had been under movement restrictions for more than 12 years. To impose extra conditions and costs above and beyond the current veterinary risk assessments would be the final straw for many producers.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales said it would be wrong to penalise herd owners for cattle contact with infected wildlife when successive governments had introduced measures that had increased the amount of TB-susceptible wildlife.

FUW vice-president Brian Walters said: “Given that scientific studies have attributed high-risk spread to protected wildlife, it would be completely unfair to punish farmers for a problem that has been created by past governments.”

The current livestock valuation and compensation systems were an integral part of Welsh TB controls and should be retained, said Mr Walters, while acknowledging that irresponsible behaviour should be penalised.

Biosecurity studies had produced ambiguous results. Scientists had concluded there was no universal solution for farm management to reduce the risk of a herd falling victim to TB. Risk factors differed from year to year and region to region.

Measures that linked compensation to biosecurity must therefore be statistically relevant and within a farmer’s control, said Mr Walters. In addition, proposals to publish details of compensation to individual farmers were fundamentally wrong.