UK-wide livestock disease group gets green light

A UK-wide cattle and sheep industry group has been created to step up the fight against endemic diseases which cost the two sectors £500m a year.

From 1 April, the Ruminant Health and Welfare Group (RHWG) will work with the AHDB, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) and Northern Ireland’s Livestock and Meat Commission.

The aim is to provide a co-ordinated approach to tackle diseases such as BVD, lameness, liver fluke and mastitis.

It will also provide a unified voice in promoting the reputation of UK beef, dairy and lamb on the global stage.

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Rebecca Geraghty, AHDB chief technical officer, explained: “The case for change is compelling. Despite a number of worthwhile initiatives and significant progress in some areas to date, endemic ruminant diseases continue to have a major impact on our industry’s performance and profitability.”

How will the RHWG operate?

  • The group will be independent, but set-up as a committee under the AHDB operating umbrella to minimise operating costs and governance complexities.
  • Technical and scientific expertise will be central to its work and will be sought for individual projects as appropriate.
  • AHDB will provide beef, sheep and dairy levy-funding for RHWG to cover the cost of the chair and secretariat.
  • This will predominantly come from the existing AHDB funding for the Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG) and Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG) in England. There will be a transition period from 1 April 2020 for these committees to work alongside the RHWG and agree which work streams will be transferred and which will close.
  • The recruitment process to find a chair for RHWG has begun. The closing date for applications is Thursday 20 February. Application details can be found on the AHDB careers portal.

No boundaries with disease

Ms Geraghty said: “Reducing the scale and impact of endemic diseases in a meaningful way would build our industry’s resilience in the face of economic challenges like Brexit.

“It would also go a significant way to improving our environmental impact.”

She added that the UK was facing unprecedented times.

“Due to Brexit and potential changes to both our operating environment and consumer preferences, we face challenges and opportunities which can be better-managed by a robust ruminant industry with world-leading health and welfare,” Ms Geraghty said.

“In terms of export of meat and dairy, there has been a broad recognition that having a high national animal health and welfare status would enable the UK to access more markets.”

The group was formed after lengthy discussions across the UK regions which culminated in a consultation period launched last September.

There was universal recognition among the 60 responses received that “disease knows no boundaries”.

RHWG proposed membership

  • UK farming unions – FUW, NFU, NFU Cymru, NFUS, NIAPA, UFU
  • Species sector bodies – National Beef Association, National Sheep Association, RABDF, Scottish Beef Association
  • Veterinary bodies
  • National Office of Animal Health
  • Livestock Auctioneers Association
  • Animal Health Distributors Association
  • Cattle Health Certification Standards
  • RSPCA (Farm Animal Department)
  • Chairs of devolved animal health and welfare policy groups
  • Animal and Plant Health Agency
  • Levy Bodies – AHDB, HCC, LMC, QMS
  • Red Tractor