Welsh farmers could face fines for TB breaches

Welsh farmers who break rules on controlling bovine tuberculosis could face fines and have disease compensation payments cut, the Welsh Assembly Government has announced.

Rural affairs minister Elin Jones put forward the proposals in a consultation document which was sent out to livestock keepers across Wales on 8 December.

“I want to link the compensation to good practice,” Ms Jones said.

“Most farmers act responsibly but cattle owners who do not comply with regulations and put their neighbours at greater risk from TB would see their compensation cut,” she said.

An assembly official added that farmers could be issued with a fixed penalty notice rather than prosecuted.

Fixed penalty notices could be issued if it appears to an authorised person that a keeper has failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with a requirement under the Order, a notice under the Order or a notice under the Tuberculosis Eradication (Wales) Order 2009, the official said.

Carmarthenshire dairy farmer and Farmers Union of Wales member Bryan Walters gave a cautious welcome to the proposals.

“The FUW fully supports all measures aimed at tackling TB that are proportionate to the risks, and we would not want to see the introduction of measures that are not evidence-based.

“I particularly support measures targeting irresponsible cattle keepers, some of whom obstruct TB testing, thereby showing complete disregard for their neighbours and the current eradication programme”.

In Wales alone over 12,000 cattle were slaughtered because of the disease in 2008 compared with 669 in 1997.

The cost of compensation to farmers has risen from £1.8m in 2000/01 to £15.9m in 2007/08 and, it is claimed, if unchecked could exceed £80m by 2014.

Hundreds of herds remain closed or subject to cattle movement restrictions.

Compensation could be reduced where:

Animals slaughtered due to bovine TB were identified after a herd test which was over two months overdue.

Where the cattle keeper failed to comply with TB legislation.

Where specific written advice issued through a Veterinary Improvement Notice had not been followed (this could include practical actions such as protecting feed from wildlife).