Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd
Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd21/01/2021
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS|
|Mike Hedges MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dr Christianne Glossop||Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol Cymru|
|Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales|
|Glyn Roberts||Llywydd Undeb Amaethwyr Cymru, Aelod or Comisiwn Masnach ac Amaethyddiaeth|
|President of the Farmers Union of Wales, Member of the Trade and Agriculture Commission|
|Grace O'Gorman||Uwch-reolwr Polisi Technegol, Swyddfa Genedlaethol Iechyd Anifeiliaid|
|Senior Technical Policy Manager, National Office of Animal Health Ltd|
|Ifan Lloyd||Llywydd, Cangen Cymru Cymdeithas Milfeddygol Prydain|
|President, British Veterinary Association Wales Branch|
|John Davies||Llywydd, NFU Cymru, Aelod o'r Comisiwn Masnach ac Amaethyddiaeth|
|President, NFU Cymru, Member of the Trade and Agriculture Commission|
|Tim Smith||Cadeirydd y Comisiwn Masnach ac Amaethyddiaeth|
|Chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:45.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:45.
Prynhawn da, good afternoon. Can I welcome Members to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is available. Microphones will be operated for you. If for any reason I drop out of the meeting, Jenny Rathbone will take over as Chair. I've got apologies from Joyce Watson and Neil Hamilton. Are there any additional declarations of interest? There are none.
The first item is a discussion with the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Can I welcome Tim Smith, chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission; John Davies, president of the National Farmers Union and member of the commission; and Glyn Roberts, president of the Farmers Union of Wales and member of the commission? If I can ask the first question. How was the membership decided?
Thank you, Chairman, and thanks very much for inviting each of us to join. I'm privileged to have both of the Welsh farming unions represented on the commission and to have them with me. So, hello, John, and hello, Glyn.
The members were chosen at the invitation of the Secretary of State, Liz Truss, back in July, and they serve in a personal capacity, but they were selected based on their expertise. So, we've got agriculture, consumer, animal health, welfare, the environment, trade, international development, hospitality and retail. So, a wide range of expertise. And my own history is that I've been a manufacturer, a retailer and a regulator.
Thank you very much. Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon, one and all. I was particularly interested in the membership, because I am aware that a few eyebrows have been raised by some of the appointments, and I'm thinking particularly of someone like Sir Lockwood Smith, who is, obviously, somebody who's there with a great vested interest in terms of New Zealand trade and agriculture, given his previous roles. Do you think it's appropriate that we turn to one of our main trade competitors to ask for trade advice?
The thought did occur to us back in July, but hasn't very frequently since, on the basis that Lockwood and all of the members are pretty robust with each other when it comes to the terms of reference and the materials that are discussed. And it's pretty clear that anybody who's got an interest must declare it, but also if we started to stray into territory where that was not working, we would have marked it, we would have dealt with it. We're a transparent organisation and, to the best of my ability as chair, I don't think those concerns have manifested themselves in any of the discussions, and certainly won't in the recommendations or principles that we'll publish in our report.
So, you don't think it was an error in terms of judgment to invite somebody with that kind of hinterland and background. Because it's been suggested to me that it's a bit like inviting the opposition rugby team's coach to be sat in your own dressing room when you're discussing tactics.
That's not my sense at all. I've got to know Lockwood since July, as John and Glyn have too, and, hopefully, they would endorse my perspective that, for all of the time that he's contributed to our thoughts and contributions, he's urged us on to think about ambitions, to think about our priorities in a new way, given this is the first time in a generation, perhaps in most of our lifetimes, that we'll have the opportunity to set new trade policy, and it is pretty useful to have somebody with his experience as both a Minister and also a trade expert to help us navigate our way through. And he also, with that ministerial background, is able to guide me and the secretariat on what Ministers would find useful within papers. So, I would say his strengths far outweigh any perceived weaknesses.
Thank you, Chair.
Following up on that point, one of the concerns I have is that the environmental voices are very weak on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. You've got one representative from Linking Environment and Farming, and in the context of the nature emergency as well as the climate emergency, I just wondered how well you are able to reflect all the challenges that are facing the agricultural industry in that context.
One of our core recommendations will be concerning the link between trade and environment, and hopefully we'll be, from your perspective and ours, ambitious when it comes to our ability to influence trading partners in their environmental performance and behaviour. I think most of my colleagues on the commission would have a foot firmly in the camp of understanding and needing to get advice externally on anything relating to the sustainability aspects and environmental components of our work. But that would be true of consumer activities, it would be true of ethical trade and responsible sourcing, it would be true of labelling. So, what we've done is set up a very structured process of communication and engagement as widely as we could, including with any environmental bodies that wanted to make a contribution. Well over 300 bodies, including many concerned with environmental matters, were asked to contribute to our work, and you'll see the footprints of their submissions in our report when it comes through. In terms of the representation around the table, having Caroline there is a conduit to lots of other experts, and that's generally true of most of the commission members. They take us into areas, into more detailed experiences and knowledge than we ourselves have. So, I think it's worked particularly well.
Okay. Well, we look forward to—
Llyr wants to come in on that as well.
On the environmental agenda, clearly there are a few—'keen' isn't strong enough—free marketeers sat around that table, as well, and looking at the balance in relation to climate-conscious voices and maybe those who might weigh or lean more favourably towards a free market, do you feel that the balance of representation around that table is right in that respect? When it does come to considering environmental factors, to what extent will you be prioritising our global responsibilities in terms of the environment as well, not just domestic considerations? I'm thinking around the impact on deforestation and those kinds of things. Because clearly in Wales we have the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and that gives us a statutory responsibility, really, to consider all of those matters.
As I said earlier, the ambition of the commission in this area will be towards providing the Secretary of State with advice that essentially says, 'We should be trading with nations who are both making and sticking to their commitments' when it comes to those particular issues. And, again, not speaking specifically about Lockwood or any of the other members, none of them have offered up any kind of resistance to the idea that our new trade policy should encompass environment and environmental concerns at its heart. I can tell you that we'll probably produce 10 significant recommendations; the most noteworthy, and one of those, will specifically relate to the environment and the global state of—. I mean, the food sector, as we all know—the way that the agri-food sector works is almost entirely global. There's quite a lot of local activity, of course, which we celebrate and recognise, but for the most part, the global impact of the food supply chain is pretty well understood. We are very keen to support initiatives that mean that we've got a shared set of standards across the globe that all parties, all countries, adhere to, and that will form a central part of our recommendation.
When you say you expect them to be sticking to their commitments, what you mean is we expect them to be sticking to our standards, not their standards.
There are literally—and I know this to my cost, because I've investigated it—hundreds of environmental standards around the world, and you're right, there isn't much wrong with the standards that we've proposed. If we're going to hit the sustainable development goals, if we're going to make our food supplies sustainable, affordable and healthy, which is where we start from, then we need to be ambitious in the UK and we need to be ambitious for the globe. So, the plan there is that we would take our seat for the first time as an independent nation, and sit with others who are able to work collaboratively with us to improve standards. I don't think there's any reason why we should simply hold our existing standards, whether they're the UK's or another country's.
Thank you very much. We'll go back to Jenny.
I've just come off a different meeting where it was pointed out that our progress on the world development goals is not impressive. We've made 1 per cent of the progress in 30 per cent of the time. So, how convinced are you that the commission will deliver the sort of radical change that's going to be required if we're ever going to meet those commitments?
I'm not going to overstate our part in how that might happen, but from the perspective of the commission members, I can say that there are none of them who would wish for anything other than we achieve the SDGs, and that whatever we do within our trade policy should not detract in any way from the progress that's been made, whilst properly recognising, as you just did, that we have not made sufficient progress. There are, in Africa, 18 more harvests to go before we're supposed to have achieved them—nine years. So, there is a lot to do. I'm a little bit of an expert when it comes to, for example, SDG 12.3, which is on food waste, where the UK has made tremendous strides in its retail and manufacturing sectors, but we look overseas for others to be following the same sort of track. You can only do so much within a trade deal, but our influence as the fifth largest trading nation must be to make sure that others are joining with us in that collaborative work.
Okay. Thank you for that. Just moving on, now, to how well you think the commission's work to date has taken account of the Welsh perspective. Specifically, I wonder if you can tell us a bit more about the evidence-gathering events that the commission held in Wales. Who was invited, what was discussed and what did you do with the information?
If we imagine this as a sort of pyramid, we started with the agriculture commission itself, and you can see John and Glyn represented here. In the working groups—. So, there were working groups on the core issues where we might not have been as well represented around the table—so, on consumer, on standards and on competitiveness. And in those working groups, I think there were four or five Welsh voices specifically chosen for their expertise in those areas, and they formed an important part of those working groups. We had a dedicated Welsh evidence gathering session on 22 October. We invited 12 Senedd Members, and one was able to attend, for which we were very grateful—Jenny, thank you, it was you—and three Government officials also attended. I'll come back to what we learnt from that process in a moment, if I may.
Flowing from that, we made a decision with Welsh Government officials that we should meet them again, and we did on 2 December, and 16 December with other devolved administration officials in order to make sure that the connection was as strong as it could be between the commission itself and the Welsh Government, whilst recognising that the secretariat had its own contact into Welsh Government. We then had the call for evidence survey, which, as I mentioned, went to some 300 organisations, and they were, obviously, free to submit whatever evidence they wanted in respect of the questions that were posed. So, we felt like we'd done a fair job, I think, at gathering that sort of information in those sessions.
The Welsh roadshow itself, as you will remember, was a 90-minute virtual session focusing on six questions that were sent in advance to participants, and it was probably one of the best attended. So, we invited 66 people—individual organisations and so on—to attend, and 28 were able to do so. The secretariat took advice from commission members John and Glyn about who should be invited, and those invitations, I think, pretty much reflected the key stakeholders in the entire agri-food sector in Wales. It was a very lively session. I think I did 13 or 14 of these sessions, and this was the most lively, the most engaged group that we had. With respect to our colleagues in Scotland, who came second in my estimation, it was no surprise to me that the devolved nation representatives in these groups were as passionate and committed to their food sector as they were. The quality of contribution was outstanding, the participants highlighted the importance to us of agriculture to the Welsh economy, and we were able to hear at first hand why agriculture matters so much to Wales, what it is in the culture, what it is within the economic borders that makes it so important. I absolutely found it fascinating, and if the commission was faltering in any way at that time—it wasn't—it just needed that jolt in the arm, and that activity that we held on that day was a real bonus for us, I think, in terms of the quality.
Of the 300 respondents who were able to send us results to the survey, there were around 10 per cent of them from Wales, from business, academia and agri-food organisations. Their contributions largely were on Welsh farming produce, exporting opportunities, market access, consumer protection and environmental standards—so, I think, a pretty full picture of how the Welsh agri-food sector related to the brief that we'd been given as a commission.
Thank you for that detailed answer. I wonder if I can bring John and Glyn in to see what your views are as to how confident you are that Welsh interests are adequately represented on the commission.
Do you want to go first, John?
I think we're not shy in putting forward the Wales view. It's really, really important that that's heard loud and clear. Agriculture and food are vitally important to the economy of Wales, and the environment, not only in Wales, but across the world, as well, is vitally important as well, Jenny, and we've been very forceful in putting forward that viewpoint. There is an opportunity to lead here, there is an opportunity to shape how the world does trade in the future. Obviously, we're not going to dominate that, we have to recognise how large we are as a trading partner, but I believe in trying to lead by example. I think there's an ideal opportunity here. I'm very attuned to the thoughts of Welsh Government and our membership from across Wales. They are particularly keen on producing the best food in the world, the most climate-friendly food in the world, and not seeing that undermined. So, there are robust and frank debates. I think the chairman does an excellent job of managing the debate.
That's excellent. Glyn, is there anything you want to add to that question?
Can I do it in Welsh, please?
Yn dilyn y cwestiwn a'r ateb a roddodd John, gaf i yn gyntaf ategu beth mae Tim wedi ei ddweud mwy na heb? I mi, mi oedd y cyfarfod oedd y comisiwn wedi ei gael efo'r dimensiwn Cymreig yn rhoi rhyw ymwybyddiaeth i mi o bwysigrwydd amaeth, ac mi oeddwn i'n teimlo'n falch iawn ohonom ni fel Cymry. Roeddem ni'n edrych ar y diwydiant bwyd fel diwydiant pwysig, roedd yr ymroddiad oedd gan bawb oedd yn y cyfarfod hwnnw yn arbennig o dda, ac roedd o'n beth roeddwn i'n cael mwynhad mawr o wrando arno fo. Hefyd, cyn belled ag y mae'r dimensiwn Cymreig o fewn y comisiwn yn bod, rwy'n gobeithio—nid fy lle i yw dweud—fy mod i a John yn gwneud ein gorau dros nid yn unig amaethyddiaeth, ond hefyd cefn gwlad Cymru drwy fod yn rhan ohono fo.
Rydw i yn teimlo rŵan—os caf i dynnu fy het comisiwn am ddau funud a rhoi het yr undeb arno—bob tro y byddaf i yn mynd i wneud rhywbeth a wnelo â'r undeb, dydw i byth yn colli'r nod sydd gennym ni fel undeb, sef edrych ar ôl y fferm deuluol yn gynaliadwy, ond hefyd edrych ar gefn gwlad cynaliadwy. Mewn ffordd, wnaf i byth anghofio pwysigrwydd yr elfennau yna, felly. A hefyd, roedd Jenny a Llyr hefyd wedi argymell neu ofyn y cwestiwn efo edrych ar ôl yr amgylchedd. A gaf i eich sicrhau chi fy mod i a John, er mai o'r diwydiant amaeth ydyn ni, dŷn ni'n gweld pwysigrwydd cael yr amgylchedd a chynhesu byd-eang ac yn y blaen yn rhan o ddyfodol amaethyddiaeth? Dŷn ni'n gwneud y pwynt yna yn gryf bob tro y medrwn ni o fewn y comisiwn hefyd. Diolch yn fawr.
Following on from your question and John's response to it, may I say first of all that I would endorse what Tim has said? For me, the meeting that the commission had covering the Welsh dimension did give me a heightened awareness of the importance of agriculture, and I felt very proud of us as Welsh people that we are looking at the food industry as being crucially important. The commitment shown by everyone in that meeting was excellent, and it gave me great joy in listening to it. As far as the Welsh dimension is concerned within the commission, then I very much hope—it's not my place to say—that John and myself are doing our best, not just for agriculture, but also for rural Wales more generally.
I do feel—if I could remove my commission hat for just a few moments, and put on my union hat—every time I carry out my functions within the union, I never lose sight of our aim as a union, which is to look after sustainable family farms and also sustainable rural communities. I will never forget the importance of those elements, and also, Jenny and Llyr had asked questions on environmental issues. Well, may I give you an assurance that both John and myself, although we represent the agricultural industry, we do understand the importance of having a healthy environment and dealing with global warming, because that's a central part of the future of agriculture? I make that point strongly every time I get the opportunity within the commission. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Could I just now move on to the commission's relationship with the Welsh Government? Obviously, John and Glyn, you have regular relationships with the Government representing your own organisations, but in terms of the commission's relationship with Welsh Government, what are the formal or informal processes that exist between the commission and the Welsh Government?
So, I refer to two specific sessions that I've had with Welsh Government officials, and there have been separate ones with advisers. Some of you will be familiar with Andy Richardson, who has been very helpful to the commission in working groups, in the session that we've just referred to, but more broadly, in kind of helping establish a link between myself as the chair and the Welsh Government officials who we needed to speak with. So, I think we've met four or five of them, headed by Emma Edworthy, who is doing a very good job of explaining to us what the Government's priorities and concerns would be. Would it be helpful for the committee to know what we learned from those kind of sessions?
Okay, I just want to unpick something which is—. I think both the sessions you had with the Minister were in December, because I think you've mentioned the date. When Lesley Griffiths appeared before this committee in November, she said that the Welsh farming unions weren't able to discuss the commission with her, because they weren't allowed to, and because they both—at least, NFU Cymru have had to sign up to a confidentiality agreement. I just wondered if you could explain why she made those remarks in November. Were they dissipated by the two meetings you had in December, and why would you need to have a confidentiality agreement for something that is—? You know, it's a public body.
No, I agree. So, the first thing I'd say is that one of our goals when we first met to think about how we'd work together was transparency in a sensible, practical way that meant we weren't providing a running commentary on what we were doing, but that we should be able to show anybody our workings, so that people could see what we were up to, and there's a website, which is easily accessible; all our minutes are accessible.
I am slightly puzzled by this idea that John and Glyn would be constrained, and obviously they'll be able to speak for themselves in a moment, but it was never the intention; we don't have an NDA for our members—non-disclosure agreement—we don't have a strict confidentiality arrangement. Members have occasionally just out of courtesy told me that they need to represent the progress that the commission has made with Ministers and others, and I've never wanted to even contemplate saying 'no' to those, because there's no good reason to. So, I don't know why the Minister felt that that was the case but she wasn't referring to contact with me. Similarly, John and Glyn would have their own perspective, I'm sure, on how that worked.
Okay, John, do you want to come in at this point? Perhaps you can clarify how this hare was set running.
Yes. Thanks, Jenny. I was under the impression that I had—well, I have signed an NDA, and I was under the impression that the commission's work was only to be related through Tim, and that's the way I had interpreted the NDA that we had signed and I've been extremely careful on that, and this is the most I have talked outside any commission meeting of the workings of it, including reporting back to my own organisation. So, perhaps I need to clarify that a little, Tim, and I accept that I had informed the Minister that way, and maybe I have been too strict in my interpretation of the NDA.
I think that's all on you to clarify that inside your organisation. It isn't really our business how your commission works, so I think it's really up to you to clarify things internally.
Chair, if I might, we can provide you with a copy of the terms of engagement of each of the members.
I think that you probably can, and it's probably going to be fine. I'm experienced enough in committees to know that what the terms of engagement say, what the rules say and what actually becomes expected are quite often different. I just really ask for John and Glyn to talk to you about what they can and can't say when they come before our committees, and I ask no more than that.
If I might just clarify, there is absolutely no restriction on anything that John and Glyn want to say to the committee today, as far as I'm concerned. Nothing.
Thank you very much.
Okay, so Glyn—have you signed an NDA?
Os dwi'n cofio'n iawn, ydw, dwi wedi arwyddo un. Mewn ffordd, dwi'n un o'r bobl hynny, dwi'n parchu cyfrinachedd, achos mewn ffordd, os nad yw un yn medru parchu cyfrinachedd, dydy o ddim yn gymwys i fynd i bwyllgorau pwysig. Mewn ffordd, dwi'n teimlo bod yna ddwy layer, os liciwch chi, o gyfrinachedd—
If memory serves me correctly, yes, I have. I am someone who respects confidentiality, because if one can't respect confidentiality then he shouldn't be attending important committees. In a way, I think there are two layers of confidentiality—
Okay. We don't want to flog this one—. Sorry.
We have to move on shortly.
Okay. We don't want to flog this particular horse, but I think the important thing is, obviously, when we are operating in committee, we don't give a running commentary on every single thing we're doing until we're ready to publish. So, there's a difference between that and my next point, which is really how much the commission discusses devolved issues or whether the commission is restricting itself to reserved matters only. It seems that you are necessarily discussing Welsh issues from the evidence you've provided so far.
Yes. I think there's a—. Hopefully it's a fairly fine point, but we understand as a commission what is reserved and what is devolved. The scope of our work inevitably takes us into areas that, for implementation purposes at least, would be devolved, and that's really important for us to understand. When we're having our conversations—and again, John and Glyn will happily join this conversation now—what's going through our minds is what is reserved and what is devolved, and when the papers are written into a report form, it will be very clear that we've respected the boundaries in the way that they should be respected. So, we won't be saying 'UK' when we actually mean 'England'.
But in terms of trade policy, which is, to my understanding, reserved, then the policy itself, the way that that's influenced, I think it will be clear that that is for UK Government, and the report is for the Secretary of State. We haven't spent a long period of time at each meeting necessarily preferencing each of the issues we're covering against the devolved arrangements, and I'm sure that, if John or Glyn or the members from Northern Ireland or Scotland felt that we should, they would have firmly and clearly rectified that problem. I'm not being complacent—that was the essence of the conversation that we had with Welsh Government officials on the second, so that we were very clear, if I wasn't already, what the Welsh Government's priorities and concerns might be.
Thank you very much. That takes us on to Janet Finch-Saunders.
Moving on to bovine TB, yes?
No—I hope you're going to talk about the extent to which the commission discusses devolved issues and the agri-food issues.
I beg your pardon, I got myself in a—. I'm jumping the gun. Sorry.
Right, yes, fine. Okay. In terms of the three deep-dive working groups on consumer issues, competitiveness and standards, I wonder if you could explain if these consider the devolved perspective and whether this is why the commission is reticent to provide assurances that they won't discuss devolution. Also, how does the commission take into account devolved policy objectives, particularly where and when they differ from those of the UK Government?
In terms of the three working groups, as you said, the focus of them was consumer matters. So, for example, we would understand, and the members of the working group would understand—I'm going to use this as an example—that labelling is a devolved matter. So, when it comes to recommendations or discussions that the working group would have had, there were members on that working group who were able to put their hand up and say, 'Of course, this is a matter that is reserved for the devolved administrations', and that would need to be—. So, that doesn't stop them having an opinion or a view, or having a direct impact on what was being said, but it was absolutely necessary that in each of the working groups, the devolved administrations' views were taken into account.
And again, the reason I had the conversation on 2 December with Welsh Government officials was to understand whether we were covering those areas sufficiently well; for example, whether we were doing justice to the Welsh position on anti-microbial resistance, and how that might feature in negotiations. So, we had the working groups forming their opinions and feeding into the commission, but I also had the benefit of the conversations with Welsh Government officials to check that I'd got the priorities and concerns in the right order, to the right degree of magnitude, and what those priorities might be.
Okay. So, the Minister for environment previously told this committee that she would want renewed assurances around the subjects discussed by the commission, since you have now been placed on a statutory footing. Can you confirm whether since November 2020 the Minister has made clear that she would like the commission to discuss only reserved issues? And I would like to hear your thoughts on the true effectiveness of this commission. Should devolved policy discussion remain off the table?
I'll deal with the first one and I might ask you to clarify the second. I have not heard from the Minister since November, or at all, and my expectation is that the statutory trade and agriculture commission that takes over its responsibilities in the spring will have a quite different terms of reference to the one that we have. So, if you imagine that what I hope we're doing is principles, recommendations, strategies, objectives for UK trade policy when it comes to agri-food, the statutory version that just happens to be called the same thing will be measuring the performance of each trade deal, looking at the objectives, looking at the performance of Government negotiators in achieving those objectives, looking at impact assessments, and so on. It's quite a different job. And it's really important to me—and I've said this publicly and I'm going to say it again—that the devolved administrations are properly represented on that new statutory body. Whether any of us make it to the next iteration is not for me to determine, but thinking about the terms of reference and thinking about the needs that you've just outlined, with which I agree, it's important that the devolved administrations are properly represented on that statutory body.
Okay. So, in questioning the Minister, she confirmed that she had very little knowledge of the commission at all, which, to be honest, sent shockwaves through me, because at the end of the day, we're all here in this committee to ensure that our views are represented on this commission. So, given the important work that you are undertaking, what is your view of potentially having devolved administration representation on the commission? If this idea is mooted, which arm of the Welsh Government would be most appropriate to attend? And I wonder whether you feel this devolved representation would make your work any more efficient or impactful. And I go back to my earlier question: how effective do you believe this commission is in terms of standing up for the rights of us here in Wales?
I think, on the last one, you're going to have to judge us by our actions rather than by what we say. So, don't look at how I'm working; look at what actually happens when we've finished our work. I'll repeat myself, if I may: it's important to me that the devolved administrations are properly represented on the new statutory body. Quite where those people are drawn from has to depend on the terms of reference of that statutory body, yet to be determined, yet to be published. But once they're published, that's when you can—. This is the idea that you set a strategy and then you work out what structure and resources you need to populate it. It would be wrong for me to say today that our existing commission just evolves into the new commission, because it will have a different terms of reference to ours, and its expertise will need to be drawn from a different part of both the political, economic, scientific and evidence-gathering bodies. So, it's really up in the air at the moment to determine exactly what that statutory body does and how it does it, but I'm going to repeat it for the third time: it must have a devolved administration component to it.
My final point: how confident are you, then, and what assurances can you give me—who represents a constituency here in Aberconwy, and I represent a lot of farmers, and in my shadow ministerial role across Wales—that this new body is going to represent better the interests of this devolved nation?
There's a comparison there, implied in your question, that I'm not comfortable with, which is that it's not already within our existing—
The reason I say that is that the Minister can't answer questions on the commission because there's a vagueness around it. It can't be working properly. So, passing the buck to the new boy wouldn't give me confidence unless somebody representing the commission, like yourself, can say to me, 'I can assure you, going forward, that this new body will be very representative of the devolved nations', and in particular Wales, because that's all I'm interested in right now.
Janet, if we let Tim reply without any interruptions, and you can come back after his reply.
I'm not part of the new commission, and nor necessarily are John and Glyn, and that is because its terms of reference have yet to be set and its membership is yet to be agreed. I won't repeat what I said about the need for devolved administration representation on that commission, but if you think about what it's going to do, which is scrutinise trade deals, then the expertise needed will be in the areas of looking at the environment, looking at ethical trade, looking at the way the principles that we're going to establish are actually being delivered, and those principles will include proper representation and acknowledgement of the role of the devolved nations.
Well, my final point is that I just hope we have John and Glyn on it, because I have every confidence in what they do.
Thank you. Jenny, before I call in Llyr.
[Inaudible.]—the commission is aware you're walking in a minefield here, because the Welsh Parliament has not given consent to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act (2020), because we feel that it is rowing back on the devolution settlement, hence our rather probing questions.
Yes, I'm aware of the situation. I wouldn't have described it as a 'minefield', but you'll forgive me if I just add it to the list of complexities that agriculture and trade, linked together, pose for the commission and for politicians.
Thank you. Llyr.
[Inaudible.]—which is heading to the Supreme Court, but that's obviously not for us to discuss today. But it is a very valid consideration, of course. A bit of a throwaway line from yourself earlier, Mr Smith: you mentioned that you hadn't heard from the Minister at all. Have I got the wrong end of the stick? Have you not had any direct engagement with the Minister herself in Wales?
No, you're quite right.
So, is that because you haven't asked, or is that because she hasn't been available? Surely that undermines, somewhat, people's confidence in the voice of Wales being articulated in the breadth of your work.
Yes, I think it would be true to say that I haven't engaged directly with Ministers in any of the four nations. For example, I wouldn't want to spend time, necessarily, with Ministers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland until our report has been ready, unless we specifically needed information from them. That doesn't mean we haven't sought and found engagement with their officials. It's not at the top of my priority list to talk with Ministers, unless they particularly would like to hear from us during the course of our deliberations, and if that were the case, I would of course make myself available for any meeting with any one of the Ministers, be it agriculture or environmental.
Because Ministers obviously set out a vision for the future in terms of their aspirations for agriculture and trade within their countries and obviously within their competence, but clearly aspirations can go beyond competence sometimes. Do you feel that you get that sufficiently from officials then? Because clearly, it's a ministerial responsibility really, isn't it, to lead from the front and to articulate that vision clearly? Are you getting that from Wales?
Yes, definitely. It might help if you were to know the list of priorities and concerns that we did get from those officials, which I thought was one of the better meetings I've held between our commission sessions themselves. So, the key concerns, which we've fed into all of our work, would have been maintaining a level playing field for all domestic producers; give and take with free trade agreement concessions to any liberalisation of restrictions in an FTA being matched with gains for the United Kingdom and specifically for Wales; the importance of antimicrobial resistance and how that should feature in negotiations, especially where there are countries, we know, with antibiotics used as growth promoters; animal welfare being included in any FTA; and Wales must be able to make decisions on devolved issues, as it does on the importation of GM and GMO goods. So, those were my top seven or eight. And then, in terms of specific priorities: maintaining the right to regulate devolved responsibilities—tick, no question about that; preserving our right of application of the precautionary principle—again, that echoes the EU version rather than, say, the US version, and we will have something to say about that; and the standards of Wales should not be compromised as part of any FTA, and clearly, we'll be judged on our recommendations when it comes to that.
Well, I'm already looking forward to reading the report, because hopefully much of that will be reflected in what's been said. We touched on how a commission is going to be on a statutory footing, and with an expanded role, and you've suggested that you'd like to see a stronger devolved administration representation in any future iteration. Is there anything else you want to say about how you see it evolving? You know, not only in terms of membership, but in terms of what it tries to achieve.
Yes. I have a view, which is a personal one, and I'm happy to share it with the commission whenever I get the chance, which is that the statutory body misses an opportunity if it doesn't encompass all of the standards and food policy issues that relate to environment, ethical trade, animal welfare, and so on, with food safety. And it would have been my recommendation, in any opportunity I've had, to say that that body should include representatives from the Food Standards Agency, so that we've got, in a one-stop shop, the ability for political advisers, political representatives to be able to say, 'Have we looked at all of this through the same lens?' and for that lens to be appropriate for maintaining all of the standards that consumers and other stakeholders are worried about. It's a personal view, and I've been pushed back a number of times, because the FSA is a separate body, as I know, having run it for half a dozen years.
Llyr, I think John Davies wants to come in as well.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to pick up on the devolution point. Obviously, good governance is vital across the four nations that go to make up our kingdom, and all policy should be done through agreement, not imposition, and we're absolutely robust in this viewpoint going forward, and we're very keen to protect the responsibilities of the Welsh Government. So, that's one point and Tim would acknowledge that we do put that forward on a regular basis.
And with regard to engagement with Welsh Ministers, when Minister Eluned Morgan was responsible for trade, we did quite a lot of work looking at the Canada free trade agreement, because that was being touted quite strongly at that time. There's obviously a Quebec veto there, so that was of interest, about how countries that do have devolved administrations and things operate, and also around Wallonia in terms of the European and Belgian thing. So, you know, it's absolutely vital. There are other models of this where this works effectively, because we have to remember that, whilst UK Government may decide things, it's Welsh Government that's going to be implementing it and it's got to be practical and it's got to be good for Wales. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. Last question from me, Chair, if I may, with your indulgence. I just want to go back to the roadshow event that was held in Wales in October. You mentioned, I think, a dozen Senedd Members were invited to attend. I'm aware as well that a limited number of Members of Parliament from Wales were invited to attend as well. Could you tell us a little bit about the criteria you used to select who was invited? Because a dozen out of 60—. All MSs—all bar Jenny, I think—have at least one farm in their constituency, but we all have consumers wherever we live, and I'm just interested in understanding what criteria you used, particularly, if I may say so, in relation to the Members of Parliament, because my understanding is that that wasn't at all politically balanced at least.
Okay. So, the secretariat were asked to ensure that we had as representative a group of individuals from whichever stakeholder group they represented. I'm going to put my head in the mouth of a tiger here and say that I relied on them to have checked that the Members who were invited were likely to attend, because they had a known record of making contributions in the relevant Parliament on this particular set of issues and debates, and that wasn't to exclude anybody. No Member of Parliament or Member of your body was able to say that they were excluded. That would have been far from the case. But we wanted to make sure that we got passionate, committed folks who were known to have made contributions on this within their own specific parliaments.
Because I note that there were nine Conservative Members of Parliament invited, three from Labour and one from Plaid Cymru. That doesn't feel right to me.
That doesn't sound right to me either. So, I don't know why that was.
Maybe, with your indulgence, Chair, maybe Mr Smith could send us a little note just outlining exactly what the criteria were that were used.
Yes, fine. Thank you.
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Llyr, and thank you for identifying that Labour were underrepresented there in terms of the number of Members of Parliament. Okay. Do John or Glyn want to add anything? Glyn's thinking about it.
[Inaudible.]—pick up on the responses that have been received actually and the issues that have been raised. You touched on some in relation to discussions with Government, but I'm more interested in the wider engagement as well and whether some of those written responses that you referred to right at the start will be made public or published.
Yes, so, I think—. Was Glyn trying to come in there?
So, the answer is that, wherever possible, if we're going to use any of those responses, and the answer is 'they'll be woven in', then we'll be asking permission of those people who made the contributions just to make sure that they're happy, not necessarily to be quoted, but for them to be included. For example, I can remember the Welsh roadshow, as I call it, having a good conversation about the affordability of food. I think it will be pretty clear, when the report's published, where those ideas and themes came from, and we'll give credit where we possibly can, having got their confirmation that they're happy to use that material.
Can I come back, Chair?
I forgot to include earlier, Chair, that we did include some correspondence from the Counsel General as well, didn't we, Tim, early on in the correspondence? And I think that is allowed to be used now as well. So, we have tried to engage and we have tried to take clear notice of that from an NFU Cymru point of view, and I'm sure Glyn is in the same place on that as well. It's really important that we have these sort of meetings, I think, because what all future trade agreements will need is proper scrutiny, and that's going to be vital now, that we do have our elected officials properly scrutinising deals that come in front of us and that's—.
First of all, Glyn, do you want to come in?
Yr unig beth fuaswn i'n ei ddweud, i drio crynhoi'r holl bethau yma, dwi'n meddwl bod y sefydliad, fel y comisiwn, yn sefydliad da, yn yr ystyr y byddwn, yn y cam nesaf ohono fo, beth bynnag, yn scrwtineiddio'r gwahanol gytundebau fydd yn cael eu gwneud efo gwahanol wledydd. Ond dwi yn meddwl ei bod hi'n bwysig yn y fan yma, pwy bynnag fydd ar y comisiwn nesaf, fod y personau fydd arno fo yn medru bod yn ddiduedd yn wleidyddol a hefyd bod ganddyn nhw gysylltiad a gwybodaeth o beth maen nhw'n ei wneud. A dwi'n cael fy nhynnu, fel mae Tim wedi'i ddweud—ac mae Tim yn hollol gywir yn beth mae o wedi'i ddweud—. Beth dwi'n ei gael yn anodd ydy, yng nghyd-destun Llywodraeth Cymru a Senedd Cymru a'r pwerau sydd gennym ni yng Nghymru, dydy masnach ddim wedi'i ddatganoli. Ond, o'm rhan i, dwi'n teimlo bod cael y fasnach yn iawn yn bwysicach i Gymru nag ydy o i wledydd eraill o fewn Prydain, gan fod amaethyddiaeth mor hanfodol bwysig i economi cefn gwlad Cymru. Mewn ffordd, sut ydym ni'n mynd i gwmpasu yr elfennau yna efo'i gilydd, dwi ddim yn siŵr. Dwi'n meddwl bod hwnnw yn rhywbeth y bydd yn rhaid inni feddwl yn galed amdano fo.
The only thing I would say, to summarise our discussions, I think that the institution, as a commission, is a good institution, in the sense that, in the next phase anyway, we'll be scrutinising the various trade agreements made with different nations. But I do think it's important here to note that, whoever is on the next commission, those individuals should be politically impartial and also have a background in these affairs and knowledge about them. And as Tim has said—and he's entirely right in saying this—. What I find difficult, in the context of the Welsh Government and the Welsh Parliament and the powers held there, is that trade, of course, is not devolved. But, from my perspective, getting trade right is more important to Wales than it is for other nations within the UK, because agriculture is so crucially important to the economy of rural Wales. What we need to consider is how we're going to encapsulate all of those elements. I'm not sure how we're going to do that, but we're going to have to think hard about it.
Back to you, Jenny.
My final question, really, is—this isn't just about the size of our nation, it's also about the distinctiveness of our agriculture and how Welsh agriculture is very different to that going on in East Anglia, and how we ensure that these trade deals don't pull the rug from under our feet in Wales, but are beneficial to people who want to, I don't know, have genetically modified cereals or whatever other things. That seems to me the biggest challenge for us and also for the Trade and Agriculture Commission, because we are talking about very different ways of doing things.
Yes. I would say, and this is a bit subjective, that the Welsh component of our evidence gathering, the Welsh component of our understanding of the issues—specifically those that you just mention—the nation is punching well above its weight when it comes to the quality of the arguments and the quality of the evidence that has been produced. So, I can think of very few occasions when we've heard an impassioned plea or any kind of guidance from the cereal growers of East Anglia, but lots of times that we've heard about the importance of the Welsh agricultural setting for the entire nation of Wales, both the economy, the culture and the landscape. So, we would have to be doing our job very badly not to reflect that in our findings.
Thank you very much. Before we come to an end, may I thank Tim, Glyn and John for coming along and talking to us? Of course, as far as Wales is concerned, our major trading partner is England, in terms of agriculture, and I think that sometimes we forget that, and I think it's important that we don't. An awful lot of our food, either processed or unprocessed—and far too much of it is unprocessed—goes to England. That's our major trade partner, and we must never forget that.
Thank you all very much, and it's been very helpful and illuminating, and I hope to see—. I know I'll see John and Glyn again, because we meet very regularly in this committee, but I hope, Tim, to see you again at one of our meetings as well, and thank you very much for giving up your time. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you. Thanks, everybody.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:39 ac 14:59.
The meeting adjourned between 14:39 and 14:59.
Welcome. Can I welcome Christianne Glossop, chief veterinary officer, Welsh Government, Grace O'Gorman, National Office of Animal Health, and Ifan Lloyd, British Veterinary Association, Welsh branch? Croeso—welcome. If we can move on to questions, if I can start, both NOAH and the BVA have—. Can I ask you what progress has been made to date in implementing the Welsh Government's antimicrobial resistance in animals and the environment five-year implementation plan 2019 to 2024? Who wants to go first? Ifan.
First of all, thank you very much on behalf of the BVA for the invitation today. I'm here as the president of the Welsh branch of BVA, and, with one of my other hats, I'm also a private practitioner, so I'm very much working on the coalface as well, alongside many of my veterinary colleagues here in Wales.
So, in terms of views on the progress in implementing the Welsh Government's antimicrobial resistance implementation plan, I think we're very positive, from the perspective of the BVA, on the work that's being done on AMR, not just here in Wales but also across the UK. All of the indicators suggest we're moving in the right direction, with targets being met well in advance. I may remind you that the most recent VARSS report, the veterinary antibiotic resistance and sales surveillance report, which was a report on antibiotic supplies in the UK, has shown a 49 per cent reduction in antibiotic usage in farmed animals in the UK since 2014. You may recall the O'Neill report in 2016, and, shortly after that, industry has taken a very good lead on this, along with its stakeholders, including veterinary practitioners and RUMA, which is the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance, set up target taskforces to set sector targets for the different categories of livestock, for example, cattle, sheep, pigs and others, including fish, actually. And that's been a huge success and we've actually met—a 50mg/kg target was set, and that target was achieved two years early. So, that's a huge success.
Grace, do you want to add anything?
Yes. Thank you, and thank you very much for the invitation to join today. So, I'm representing the National Office of Animal Health, the trade association for the veterinary medicine sector in the UK. I fully support everything Ifan has described—the tremendous work and effort right across the industry to achieve what we have today. NOAH, as an organisation, has been playing our part as well, developing training for farmers in the responsible use of antibiotics, and developing a vision, as well, into the future, where we look at how we prevent disease going forward.
Looking at the Welsh plan, I think it sits in very well with helping the national effort. It's very well joined up, but also takes advantage of the structures and systems that you have in place in Wales as well, to deliver something that's quite effective on the ground.
Thank you very much. Jenny Rathbone. Oh, sorry, Christianne wants to come in.
I didn't know when you wanted me to make a comment, but I just really wanted to add in—and thank you for inviting me here in my own right today; this is a treat, thank you—I just wanted to add that I think it's important for Wales to play to its strengths with the antimicrobial resistance work. So, some of the ambitions within the overarching UK plan talk about funding innovation, they talk about expanding lab capacity for looking at AMR. That's great, they're good ambitions, but, meanwhile, what can we do in Wales that will make a difference? And on the ground, the unit of prescription is the veterinary surgeon and the owner of the animal, and that relationship, and making sure that our vets are trained and on message, which I believe they are—and Ifan is obviously well placed to comment on that—means that we can make a difference on the ground. And it's each of those units of prescription that feed into achieving those targets. So, although we may have some disadvantages, I think we've got some great advantages where the veterinary profession in Wales is really joined up. Thank you.
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone.
Just following up on that, isn't the fundamental problem that, whilst we continue to have farmers gathering animals into unnaturally tight sheds, we're going to have to resort to antibiotics to make that a viable business? Otherwise half the flock or half the herd will get diseases that makes them impossible to get a profit out of.
How do you want to do this?
Well, I'm happy for you to start, Christianne.
Okay, just following on. Okay. So, large numbers of animals kept together doesn't equal disease, but, if you get an infection into a large population, then, obviously, there's an opportunity for that disease to spread. So, it's not as straightforward as thinking about big farms equals disease and small farms equals health—it's a lot more complex than that, as I'm sure you understand. So, the key to this, in my view, is health planning, where the design of the system, the management processes, the plans for health and preventative medicine within that population, are designed to suit the arrangements and the enterprise that it seeks to serve. You don't need to assume that, if you keep a lot of animals, you're going to be using, per animal, more antibiotics at all, in my view, but, obviously, we've got a practicing vet here that might also like to comment.
Okay. Ifan, do you want to go next?
Yes, thank you, Jenny. You've hit on a very, very good point, and I think the answer to that is that you've hit on a point relating to the key role of the veterinary practitioner. It's about that relationship between the farmer and his own vet. One of our priorities here in Wales has been, for a number of years, and particularly now with the antimicrobial resistance implementation plan, to utilise that special relationship between the farm vet and his own clients, his farmers. And using that concept, you can really drill down to a local level, use the local knowledge of the vet and his knowledge of the disease history and the management plans on that farm, and work with that farmer on health planning, creating health plans, looking at biosecurity, looking at preventative measures, looking at housing. And, obviously, the healthier the animal, the less likely it is to become diseased, and the less disease you have, the less likely that it is for the need to use antibiotics. So, that's one of our primary ambitions—to reduce the need to use antibiotics in the first place.
Grace, do you want to come in at this point?
I absolutely concur with those statements there. They're entirely correct and, like they were saying, it's not so much just the system in place, it's how it's managed, it's how it's run, it's the relationship with the vet, it's really proactive herd health planning and thinking about the tools that farmers need. So, if they need some help in terms of upgrading management practices, in terms of their infrastructure, looking at their biosecurity—all of these things can help. So, yes, moving away from just looking at stocking density as an absolute to looking holistically at the whole farm and how it's run, and I think the plans that have been set up in Wales are very well positioned to actually do that.
Okay. Notwithstanding all of your professional commitment to, obviously, maximise the health of the animals you look after, is there not a correlation between the intensity of the farming and the incidence of disease? Surely, animals that are grass fed and kept outside most of the year, well spaced—surely they are going to be far less likely to get disease, in the same way that we've seen with coronavirus and humans. The people living in intensively packed housing are the ones much more likely than those living in large mansions to get COVID.
Anybody want to reply? I just think this is rather fundamental to the whole issue in terms of how we make—you know, 'Sustainable farming and our land' seems to be beginning to address this. Christianne.
Christianne to respond.
Thank you. So, I suppose—. The first thing is to keep infection out of a population. You've drawn the analogy with COVID, and you're absolutely right. I think people have a better understanding of disease spread and epidemiology now than perhaps they did a year ago. So, with that population, the first thing is to keep infection out. You can have a large number of animals in one building, but provided you don't allow infection in and they're managed properly, then you shouldn't have problems. It depends on the infectious disease you're talking about, because if you think about an extensive sheep farm with sheep out in the fields, they may not be suffering from some of the infections, or exposed to some of the infections that you're referring to, but they could be more exposed to some parasites if the pasture's not managed properly and the land isn't in the right state, or they might be suffering with footrot if that's a problem. So, there are other problems of extensive livestock production that, in fact, could result in the need to use antibiotics or other products, just as much, really, as perhaps a respiratory infection. You're absolutely right; in a large population of, say, pigs in one building, if infection gets in, it can spread quite quickly. So, it does depend on the infection you're talking about, but keeping it out is the first principle. Then, secondly, the way it's managed, how the animals are managed, will have an impact on how that infectious agent might spread or be perpetuated should it get into a population in the first place.
And the other two are nodding, so I assume they agree with you.
All right. Given that all three of you, obviously, are very focused on this issue, to what extent do you think the Welsh Government's antimicrobial resistance implementation plan has contributed to the UK Government's five-year plan, as well as, obviously, the World Health Organization and the European Union's efforts in this regard? Are we punching above our weight?
Shall I come in here?
Thank you very much. I think we are punching above our weight on this one. I think this is a very good story here again. Alongside the implementation plan in Wales, in parallel with it, there is the delivery group, which is the animal and environment AMR delivery group, which includes stakeholders from the veterinary profession, like myself, farmers on the ground, representatives for the environment and also from Public Health Wales. It's really, really important with AMR that we bring in this 'one health' approach, because there is that very strong inter-relationship between the environment, human health and also animal health.
Within that group, some of the work that's gone on—and I would say that the veterinary delivery partners in Wales, the two TB veterinary delivery partners, have been particularly strong on this aspect in leading on antimicrobial resistance, because their member practices are actually joining up to an agreement on how they manage antibiotics, how they're responsible in the way they use them and some of the programmes. For example, then, one of the recent funded programmes through this programme has been the Arwain Vet Cymru programme, where over 80 per cent of the farm practices in Wales have signed up to have a practice AMR champion on the farm animal side, to have additional training, workshops and also to help to cascade new working practices and improved medicine usage within that practice. That's been recognised outside Wales, and is being adopted in other areas of the UK at the moment as being a very good way of actually getting those messages across to vets, but also for the vets then to cascade that and to implement that in their management plans with their farm clients.
How well are we meeting our targets, for example, to reduce antibiotic use in food-producing animals by 25 per cent in the five years that have just finished? That's No. 1. And how stretching are the new targets? Grace, do you want to go first, and then everybody can have a say?
I can certainly talk from the UK level, and perhaps Christianne and Ifan might be able to talk specifically at the Welsh level. Certainly in terms of our goals that were released and our progress on the RUMA targets taskforce, we've made fantastic strides in meeting our targets. What we're seeing, going forward, is that we have actually caught a lot of the low-hanging fruit, if you will, and so our targets going forward are looking at qualitative measures, not just quantitative. So, yes, we need some metrics to understand how we can measure progress in a very objective way, but also we want to look at some other measures such as reducing disease incidence on-farm, improving training and education and other elements. I think what we'll see going forward is a better approach to long-term sustainable antibiotic use, which is quite important. As I said right at the beginning, we've taken a voluntary approach, and it can be hard to reach the very fringes of those not engaged, so I think looking at more holistically how we can—as we mentioned at the beginning—prevent disease on-farm will become even more important. It's actually really hard to get to grips with that kind of work; that's much more difficult work than some of the easier work of just really reducing some of the use in those areas that we shouldn't have been using it in.
Christianne, do you want to add?
Thank you. I agree with Grace. I think I would just like to say now, though, that what we don't want is to get a point where it's a taboo thing to use antibiotics in animals. If they need treatment as a population or an individual, then in my view, they should always be able to be treated. That's very important for animal health and animal welfare. So, I would say that. In terms of are we meeting our targets, the targets that were set by the taskforce were targets for the whole of—I'm looking at Grace; is it UK or GB?
UK, as far as I understand.
Okay. So, for the whole of the UK. On those targets, the initial targets were met ahead of time, which was great. Now you've asked a specific question about Wales, and we don't have the exact measures for just Wales right now, although the Arwain Vet Cymru programme that Ifan has talked about—one of the objectives of that programme is to drill down to veterinary practice level to look at antibiotic usage. So, that's going to give us some very useful data as we go through the next year or so. But I would also agree with Grace that we also need to look at the other measures in terms of health status and eradicating some of the diseases that predispose the population to needing more antibiotics. So, for example, with the bovine viral diarrhoea eradication programme here in Wales, as we drive down the levels of BVD, then that in itself will help reduce the need for those medicines. But the medicines themselves must—we need to protect them, so that when an animal really needs them, they can be used. I think that's really important. Thank you.
I think that's really important to say that, and you're all experts in animal health. But in the context of what many of the international health experts are saying—that if we don't get a grip on the misuse of antibiotics, we are going to have a pandemic of antimicrobial resistant diseases that will make COVID look like a walk in the park—what do you think are the limitations of all these surveillance methodologies in translating into not just having sustainable animal production, animal farming, but also the impact on human health? Because we are what we eat. And clearly, the way in which doctors prescribe antibiotics is also relevant to all this.
Who wants to go first? Ifan.
Thank you. I think we just need to be a little bit careful here. When we look at global antimicrobial usage and the way antibiotics are used in agriculture, there are some countries where they use antibiotics in far greater quantities than we do here in the UK, particularly as growth promoters, and in certain types of systems. I think in Wales in particular, if you look at the beef and sheep sector, which is extensive livestock production—and I know this because I do medicine reviews with a lot of our farmer clients here in the area around Swansea on an annual basis—you'd be surprised how little antibiotics they use on some of those farms. From the Wales perspective, maybe you can argue, 'Well, how can Wales—?' Maybe we can't influence what's happening in the world, but we can certainly influence what's happening in Wales, and I think in some of these areas we're actually doing very well. There's room to improve, obviously, even within the sheep sector, and there are areas we want to focus on to reduce antibiotic usage where we can through better health planning and preventative measures, again using that vet-farmer relationship, and also on certain types of beef enterprises. But we just need to be careful that we're putting Wales in its true context here, and actually where the antibiotics are being used. We need to be using antibiotics where we need to use them, no more than is necessary, because ultimately, as vets, animal welfare is on the top of our agenda. Where a condition is treatable with a certain antibiotic, whether that's a farm animal or whether that's somebody's beloved pet or whatever, then we certainly would want the tools at our disposal to treat that animal.
Thank you. Janet wants to come in now.
Thanks. Intensive poultry units—I think that's a completely different ball game, isn't it? Because we do know that, in intensive poultry units, the infection rates can be quite high. I think they fall into a different category than sheep or pigs. Am I right or wrong? Because we've got these springing up all over Wales in huge numbers.
Christianne wants to answer that.
You're absolutely right that the poultry industry is expanding in Wales, particularly down the border, actually. But referring back to what I said earlier, there you've got a large population housed together, so the first thing you've got to do is have good biosecurity protocols in place to minimise the risk of infection coming into that population. These large poultry units, more often than not, operate what they call an all-in, all-out system, so you have a completely clean building, you put a population of new birds that are all from the same source into that completely clean building, and then their biosecurity standards are very high. Of course, the reason for that is that if you did get infection in, it would spread like wildfire because they're all together; we go back to the COVID example. So, in my experience, those large populations are very well monitored, very carefully controlled, but you're right; there is a risk that, if infection gets in, it will cause a big problem.
Interestingly, thinking about the avian flu situation—and obviously, if you got avian flu into one of those units it would be very serious indeed—we've seen avian flu arriving in quite small units as well, like little backyard flocks. So, they're all susceptible, and it's just the rate of spread that is influenced by the size of population and the way they're managed. I would equate the pig industry, the commercial pig farms, to poultry units. I think you were perhaps suggesting that they were more extensive. Pig units can be quite intensive, and for exactly the same reason, you're very careful with what you bring into a pig unit and how it's managed. I don't know if Ifan would back me up with any of that.
Yes, I would—
I believe you.
We'll be talking about avian flu later on. Llyr.
Thank you, Chair. I just want to endorse some of the comments made earlier, particularly when the chief veterinary officer referred to BVD. I know the Gwaredu BVD programme is one that we should be acknowledging as an important part in our efforts on this front. On the flip side, of course, it's disappointing that there was, I think, a proposed scheme for sheep scab, which still hasn't materialised, which is something I hope will be prioritised in the coming months and years. But there we are; that's where we are. But again, we need to be working across the piece, don't we? And we need to be picking off some of these diseases as best we can. But I just wanted to ask about the 'one health' approach, and to what extent that's working. Is there sufficient co-ordination between human, environmental and animal impacts and aspects of AMR control? Because in principle it's great, but in practice, I'm sure it's not easy, is it?
That's probably aimed at you, Christianne.
Okay. All right, fine. Thank you. It's absolutely vital that we take a 'one health' approach. The current situation with COVID is a great example of that, isn't it? And we know that more than 60 per cent of new and re-emerging diseases that can infect people are derived from animals, so we know that zoonoses are very important. I read a figure the other day that 2.2 million people die each year in the world from the top 13 zoonotic diseases, one of which, of course, is tuberculosis. So, it's massively important that we have the right processes in place to protect people from infection from animals and, in fact, the other way round. You will have been following the story of COVID being transmitted to mink and ferrets, and so on. So, it does work both ways.
But because we're all in this together—animals and people and the environment—and because the medicines that we may use to help deal with situations in people or animals are mostly shared—there are some that are very carefully guarded and only used in people—but because they're shared, we've got to adopt that 'one health' approach. I think that there are a lot of building blocks for a successful 'one health' approach in place right now, but if I was doing a school report, I guess what I would say is, 'We can always do better', and we've got to increase the level of understanding between the medics and the vets, the human health experts and the animal health experts, to bring them together. And one of the places they do come together, of course, is the pharmaceutical industry, where many pharmaceutical companies are producing products for both animals and humans. I guess, Grace, you might have a view on that.
Yes, certainly. So, there will be plenty of pharmaceutical companies that work across the piece, whether it's on the human side or the veterinary side. And we know that really upholding the effectiveness of the precious resource that is antibiotics is one of the things that's really taken us forward to ensure that we have them into the future. So, there are many classes that are shared between humans and animals, and people sometimes don't understand that, but it's a really important element to point out that if we want them to continue to be effective into the future, we've got to do the right thing on both sides of the fence, and I think that's really important.
There's also thinking about the market for these things, so thinking about the future development of antimicrobials and antibiotics. There is very little incentive to develop new antibiotics in the veterinary sector. Clearly, you can see that from the market. There's no growth potential in there, we're using far less than we've ever used before, and so what we've got to do is ensure that what we've got in the veterinary toolbox today is effective tomorrow, in five years and in 10 years' time, and that alone I think is incentive for vets and for everybody to use them properly.
So, again, 'one health', but also just in veterinary education as well. Public health is such a huge part of veterinary education, so we're naturally thinking about how to protect people, looking at zoonotics as well in terms of 'one health'. The environmental side of things is hugely important, and I suppose it's one of those areas that will always benefit from a bit more research to understand what's possible, and then what the impact is of those possibilities.
Before Ifan comes in, was there not an initiative a few years ago, driven by the UK Government, to incentivise the development of new antibiotics? Was that not something that happened? I seem to remember—I may be wildly off—when antimicrobial resistance hit the headlines in the popular media that the Government felt compelled to create some sort of fund to stimulate some of that research because, as you say, it just isn't happening, is it?
There's certainly a market failure on the human side of things as well. So, yes, I think there have been initiatives throughout the UK, particularly on the human pharmaceutical side of things, yes.
Ifan, did you want to add anything to that?
Just from a practical perspective and from a Wales perspective in terms of 'one health', I totally agree with Christianne and Grace on this one. I referred earlier to the animal and environment AMR delivery group here in Wales. That includes members from Public Health Wales. So, there is that, and there was a reason behind that in order to ensure that there was this communication between animal use and humans, and that's an open discussion around the table. It's also an opportunity for us to learn from each other, because there are things that are happening, through Public Health Wales and through the NHS in Wales, programmes that we could potentially utilise as a method for working within veterinary practices and with our clients. There's a lot more work to do there, and sometimes it can be a bit difficult to get the attention of our medical colleagues, but it is working and it's definitely a work in progress. Another example is where there's been joint working, for example, with the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, or the European Antibiotic Awareness Day, where the veterinary and medical professions in Wales have come together to put out joint messages to the public, which is really good to see.
Okay. And what about the impact of our departure from the EU on AMR control in animals and the environment? Clearly there's an impact there, but I'm just wondering to what extent that's going to hinder some of this work. Grace.
I think we're in the early days and we're all getting to grips with what that looks like, to be honest. I would say, on the AMR front, the UK and Wales has been a world leader in this space, so whether inside or outside the EU, in terms of all of our strategies, our implementation plans, our groups, our projects, everything that we have established will continue on into the future. There's real momentum behind it. So, in terms of AMR controls and what we're planning to do, I don't think that's going to change, in my opinion anyway, in the next short term for sure. In terms of surveillance and looking at controls, that's an area that I'm sure the CVO can speak more closely on, but we would definitely support adequate resources in terms of surveillance and monitoring of AMR and making sure we have the resources in place for any gaps that might exist and that are identified.
I think we're coming to surveillance later on, so we won't pursue that now, if that's okay.
Thank you. On to Janet.
In terms of bovine TB, I've had a look at the annual reports on the number of badger licences issued to prevent the spread of bovine TB. Why are the numbers issued so low, and do you acknowledge that more should be done to tackle the disease amongst wildlife?
Who do you want—? Do you want me to comment first?
Specifically with regard to dealing with wildlife, I think the key to this is really—. We've talked about the role of the vet and the importance of the farmer-vet relationship, and with any disease eradication programme, in my view, you need to be applying the basic principles of infectious disease control. That's the same for any disease we've talked about already, and it includes TB. So, first of all, keeping infection out, and in Wales, something like 95 per cent of our cattle farms don't have TB, and we know that because we test them every single year, and 95 per cent are free. So, keeping infection out of those farms and the areas of Wales with low levels of TB is really, really important. The second thing is to find infection quickly. I think, Llyr, you said that we're going to be talking about surveillance later, but this is part of surveillance: testing regularly to find infected herds. And then, to stop disease spreading. And finally, to stamp it out.
Now, in each of those situations, with each breakdown, something introduced infection into the herd. Something, maybe the same thing or something different, might be perpetuating infection in that herd, and so, on each breakdown, we're looking really hard at what brought infection into the herd. So, the question, 'Did it come in in an infected bovine? Did it arrive in that way?' And we can tell, by using whole-genome sequencing of the infection that we find on the farm, whether it's a strain of TB that's native to the area, to that particular farm area, or whether it has travelled long distance. We can actually do some quite good detective work now. There's a lot of effort going in on that side and it's made a big difference. Over the 10 years to now, we've almost halved the number of TB breakdowns in Wales. So, that approach is a good one, alongside wise purchasing decisions, good biosecurity and so on.
So, coming back to the question of the contribution of wildlife, or badgers—you particularly specified badgers—what we have been doing is asking the question, 'Well, are badgers in Wales infected with TB?', and we've got a programme, which you'll know about, where we pick up dead badgers and test them for TB. And we've found in some areas that we have no infected badgers at all when we've looked at them; in other areas, particularly south-west Wales and down the border with England, we have found infected badgers, but at quite low levels in south-west Wales—in single figures, around 8 or 9 per cent of the badgers we've picked up. So, actually zoning in on, 'Are badgers driving this whole problem?', in my experience and from the evidence we have, no, they're not driving the epidemic across the whole of Wales; there's no way that they are. However, it's true that, on certain farms that have had TB for a long time, we've found infected badgers on the farm as well as infected cattle. And under those circumstances, then an approach would be to deal with infection in the badgers as well as in the cattle.
And it's very time consuming and very expensive, hence, you've said, 'Well, there are so few licences that have been issued', and that's really why. First of all, because it's not necessary to issue lots of licences, we don't have evidence that we need to, but then, in the situations where we do need to get involved in removing infected badgers, it takes a long time and it's an expensive process, and we're still testing it as well. That's the other thing: we don't know whether that approach is going to make the big difference. But we've dived straight into badgers on TB and we haven't really had a chance to think about the wider picture, but I know, for example, that the British Veterinary Association have got very strong views on what should be done about TB, so they might like to address your question as well, Janet.
I'm sure they will.
Thank you, Christianne. Yes, the BVA published its very comprehensive position paper on TB, a UK-wide one, last year or the year before—time flies at the moment. And that covers the four nations of Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, so it was quite a challenge to do that in some areas, we had to bring in all the variations we have between the devolved administrations. But definitely our view is that we believe in a holistic approach to tackling bovine TB that makes use of all the available tools in the toolbox. Clearly, your question about wildlife is a very good one, but we must also take into account that, in terms of what's happening down at farm level, it's really important that we try and identify what's driving infection on any particular farm or where infection has come from, and that includes wildlife.
We're certainly finding that, for example, cattle movement is a common reason for TB to be spread from one farm to another. If we have a TB breakdown in a farm in north Wales, which is in a low-incidence area in Wales, then it's more likely that the disease has usually been identified as being from an animal that's been brought in from another area.
Likewise, another area that we're finding is becoming more prominent is undetected infection in farms, where the current standard surveillance testing we're carrying out on farms—the skin test—doesn't always identify all the infected animals, and those animals can remain in the herd and continue infecting other animals, and we are seeing an increasing number of those. So, one of the priorities moving forward is to start to use more and to develop more sensitive tests to make sure that we can identify these individual animals, because they're causing a problem for the farmer in particular, because he can't get rid of TB in his herd and because he's potentially got an animal there that's continually shedding Mycobacterium bovis into the environment.
With respect to badgers, then the BVA position on it is that we believe that, where there's evidence to support badgers as being a driver of infection, then that should be tackled. Firstly, working with your own vet, you can look at your biosecurity measures and do plans there to have separation between your cattle and your badgers, particularly indirect transmission. Secondly, badger vaccination is a tool that is being deployed and has potential, albeit within the BVA, we'd like to see more evidence as to how the vaccination of badgers actually filters through into benefits for the cattle, but nevertheless it is used in the edge area in England and it's been used in various projects here in Wales. And, then, in terms of culling, if there is evidence that infected badgers are driving infection on the farm, then, certainly a targeted approach to remove infected animals would be supported by the BVA, but it is very much based on having the evidence to hand beforehand.
Thank you. I'm sorry, my next question is still badgers. So, I understand that licences issued to capture, mark and take badgers to prevent the spread of disease are only issued where there is a TB chronic breakdown herd. What assessment have you made of the benefit of issuing licences to all holdings with persistent breakdowns? Should this not be an integral part of every individual herd action plan?
Okay. So, in terms of our terminology, a long-term breakdown herd is one that's had a TB breakdown for at least 18 months. We might also call that a chronic breakdown herd. So, they're all the same, and about 10 per cent of our TB breakdowns—. We've got around 600 herds in Wales having a TB breakdown right now and, of those, around 10 per cent to possibly 15 per cent are regarded as long-term breakdowns. So, for each and every one of those long-term breakdowns an action plan is put in place, and part of the process is looking, as Ifan has suggested, with the vets to try and figure out what's driving infection on those long-term breakdowns and, part of that, is asking the question, 'Is there possibly any wildlife component to this problem?' Now, we've got examples of action plans where the farmer has said, 'I've got absolutely no evidence of badgers on this farm, I absolutely haven't. So, for certain, that is not perpetuating my breakdown'.
There are examples of action plans where we've completely been able to rule out the notion that badgers could have anything to do with the problem. On other long-term breakdown herds it's not so straightforward to rule that out. And that's where, for each of those, the question is asked, there's a survey of the farm to try and understand, first of all, are there badgers on the farm, have we got any evidence of finding infected badgers in the area through our found-dead survey and, finally, the question of shall we now apply for a licence. Actually, it's applying for the licence, because although it's Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales that issue the licences, it's certainly not my team—it's absolutely separate from anything that I do. Then, we would apply for a licence and go through the process that you're familiar with. It's a staged approach and it's certainly not appropriate for every single farm that goes down with TB to automatically, first of all, assume that badgers are involved, and, secondly, deal with that.
Quite a lot of breakdowns clear up quite quickly. The thought of going in there and successively, after months and months, removing badgers, where there's no evidence they're driving the problem, wouldn't be appropriate. It's a protected species, so you have to think about that and you know about the licencing, and if there's no evidence, then it really isn't an appropriate thing to do.
I suppose, just coming back quickly on that one—
And then could you go on to avian flu after that, Janet?
Yes. Just coming back quickly on that one, a long-term breakdown, though may not be described as chronic—. That sounds a long time. I didn't realise that these problems could ensue for about 18 months. It sounds a long time to me for a farm to be in limbo and under such worrying—
Well, they're not exactly in limbo. When we test a herd and find infected cattle, then that herd has to have two clear tests—complete herd tests—before we can say, 'We can lift restrictions and end the breakdown.' And those tests are 60 days apart. So, from the first time you find an infected animal on a farm to the quickest time you could possibly lift restrictions is 120 days. So, the shortest breakdown you could have is—whatever that is, 120 days—four months. Inevitably, in herds, we don't find every infected animal at that first test, so breakdowns can go on a long time. Sadly, we've got some breakdowns in Wales that have gone on for an awful lot longer than that. But, it is a fair challenge—why choose 18 months? That is where we've started the process. As we learn more, then I think it's possibly reasonable to bring that back a bit and say, 'Well, a 12-month breakdown is a long-term breakdown.'
I was wondering whether there are any targets set. Right, I'll move on to avian flu. How effective has the all-Wales avian prevention zone been in protecting birds in Wales?
Shall I just answer that to start with?
Grace was nodding when you said you would.
Yes, sure, okay. [Laughter.] So, in terms of how you measure effectiveness, up to this moment—. I've got my phone right beside me, so if there was a suspected outbreak of flu in Wales right this minute, I would have seen the text. I keep that—I sleep with my phone, sadly. We have had some suspect cases of avian flu over the last few months, but they've all been what we call negated—so, a vet's been sent out to the farm or the smallholding, they've checked the birds and either decided on the basis of the clinical picture that it's not avian flu, or, in some cases, we've had samples taken that have gone to the lab and they've come back negative.
So, so far, we have had no cases of avian flu in domestic poultry or captive birds in Wales during the period of this outbreak, which started last October time. In terms of how effective our measures have been, on a very simple level you could say, 'Well, that's very effective'. However, we know that there are risks attached to the fact that we have infected wild birds across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we've had findings of infected wild birds in Wales—actually, only in south Wales so far. But, our view is that we've probably got infected wild birds across the whole land mass of Great Britain, basically.
So, the risk remains and the prevention zone across the whole of Wales, actually, is connected to the prevention zone in England and Scotland, where we're asking everyone with domestic birds to protect them from contact from these potentially infected wild birds, yet the prevention zone that's in place in England and Scotland has exactly the same measures and they have suffered some cases. So, it's as effective as it can be, but it is no guarantee that we won't get a case of avian flu in Wales. That could happen at any time while we've got this period of high risk.
Okay, one for the BVA now. The BVA have raised concerns that avian influenza could potentially place additional pressures on our veterinary capacity. What discussions have there been? Has there been any additional pressure to date due to avian flu? With everybody looking out for it, there's a resource issue there. If so, should we—God forbid—end up with an avian flu outbreak, how do you think we can actually address this, in terms of our veterinary capacity across Wales?
That's a very good question. There haven't been any incidences of avian influenza in Wales so far. It's a particular concern in that it's taking up, or potentially could take up, veterinary personnel, particularly from the Animal and Plant Health Agency and, also, from private vets, at a time when there's existing pressure on the profession through the impact of COVID-19, also through veterinary recruitment and availability of vets, and, of course, more recently, the new requirement and the dramatic growth in the demand for export health certification and other certification work related to animals and products of animal origin for import and export purposes. So, there's a huge potential there for a problem, and I think avian influenza, as an entity, would be one of the risks, alongside the other risks.
I might add, as well, coming back to Christianne's points, that one of the key concerns in Wales regarding avian influenza is in regard to communication with flock owners, because there are large numbers of small, backyard flocks in Wales, as there are in other areas, and even though flocks greater than 50 head of poultry have to register centrally, that requirement isn't there for the smaller flock owner. And it is really important, when we do have a disease breakdown or a new incident, that you're actually able to communicate with all the individual flock owners as quickly as possible, and having a register of as many flock owners as possible is probably a priority.
That leads me to my final question. As you know, obviously, since 14 December, there has been a legal requirement for all poultry and captive birds to be housed. However, on my walks, I'm seeing quite a few that aren't, and it might be that they've only got three or four just in a chicken hut, but they're out, and they're not away from the elements of wild birds coming down for food and things. How do you address that? How are you monitoring or trying to engage with people who may be keeping half a dozen hens?
That's really, really difficult. We can't be all across Wales every day checking that every bird is indoors. So, this is about communicating the risk to people, making sure that we publicise the requirements as well as we possibly can, and actually, coming back to the role of the vet, the vets are driving around the countryside, they're visiting farms, they can be helping advise people on this as well. So, we're kind of all in it together. But, I would say that just housing birds, if that's all you do and you don't improve the biosecurity while they're in the housing, it can lead to problems—they can still get infected. And we have got cases of avian flu that have happened in the last few months, and happened in birds that are housed as well. But, you're right—you can't enforce. It's impossible for us to enforce that requirement across the whole of Wales with people with one chicken; people have just got to do the right thing. The problem is that if you get a case of avian flu in a flock of six chickens, the procedures—it's on a smaller scale—are exactly the same. If that's regarded as a commercial flock because they sell eggs at the bottom of their drive or whatever, it's the same process, the same amount of effort as if it was a large flock. And so it's really important for those small producers to know the rules and follow them.
Thank you. Can we move on to Llyr, because we are running very short of time at the moment? Llyr.
There we are—I'll condense my questions, Chair. Back to surveillance, then. We've been speaking about surveillance, obviously, for the last 10 minutes and more, I suppose. I know the chief vet has said quite a bit, and maybe Ifan and Grace would like to add, really, any comments as to how effective the approach to veterinary surveillance is. I noted in the BVA paper a reference to the fact that the domestic surveillance system is under financial pressure, and at a time when we're at an increased risk in terms of biosecurity, then surely that shouldn't be the case.
Do you want to go first, Grace?
Well, clearly, if the BVA are saying it's under financial stress, then something needs to be done about that. It is our front line. It's something that needs to be well resourced. If we're going to understand emerging or new diseases that come to this shore, then it's got to be something that has to be prioritised. I would think that now is as good a time as any to actually reinvest and to think about how we want to take this, going forward. You've seen from the COVID pandemic just how important it is to have resource in the country that is effective, that stands up, that can easily be put into effect quite quickly, and surveillance, actually, right at the very beginning of something like this, would have perhaps told a different story. And it's the very same for animal health as well. So, investing in that is a very good long-term investment in the future of animal health in the UK.
Well, we went into this in our written statement. I completely agree with the comments by Grace. The UK veterinary surveillance network is vital in identifying and managing threats to public health, trade, wider society and, of course, for animal diseases. There was, at one time, if we look at the veterinary investigation centres in Wales—the laboratories that carry much of the surveillance work in Wales—. There's one in Carmarthen, of course, which is also a UK centre of excellence for extensive livestock production and also expertise in parasitology, which is extremely relevant here in Wales. And we've got the privately owned Welsh Veterinary Science Centre in Aberystwyth, which was established around six or seven years ago as part of the new system. That's working very well, doing postmortem work, because, ultimately, with surveillance, one of the key things is early detection, so you need that early intelligence, because if there is a new or emerging disease, you need to identify it as soon as possible. Very often, it could be the farmer that's the first person to notice, and then it's important that farmer is in contact with his own vet and that there's a system to cascade or escalate that information up the system, so that you can actually respond promptly and quickly to any new or emerging threats. Arguably, there's been a lack of investment in this sector, and now that we're outside of the European Union, this is an opportunity to actually address this issue and really make sure that we've got robust systems in place.
Thank you. We touched earlier on on Brexit and capacity issues, so we won't pursue that. I just want to finish, maybe, with the standstill period rules and to what extent you feel that those are still proportionate, how effective they are and also, of course, the quarantine unit scheme you brought in in 2017 and whether that's making and having the impact that we were all hoping for.
Who wants to go first? Someone, please. [Laughter.]
Okay, all right. Sorry, you were just saying I'd been talking a lot, so I thought I'd try and keep quiet. So, you know why we introduced the six-day standstill, that was to put a kind of firebreak in place to minimise the risk of spread from one farm to another, and we need those measures in place before we get the next outbreak of foot and mouth disease, not a few weeks after it's happened, and so: how effective is it? The only way of really testing that is to do some sort of terrible controlled experiment where you take it out of half the system and see what happens. But it was carefully introduced in the first place to do exactly what it said on the tin, which is to minimise the risk of spread from one farm to another.
Now, the quarantine unit arrangement was something that was developed with the industry to provide people with a way of getting almost around the six-day standstill for specific reasons. I regret that, because, actually, the whole idea of having a quarantine unit when you bring animals onto your farm—it's a great idea. Forget trying to meet the rules or the requirements, if you're bringing animals from one population to another, and we've already talked about the risk of disease spread in that way, then every time you do it is a risk, and so to mix animals that you've just bought in with your native population is a very dangerous thing to do. Keeping them separate, not for six days, actually, the far safer thing—if you look at the pig industry, when they bring animals in, they isolate them for 28 days, they test them for different diseases, they use that time to vaccinate them. So, the use of quarantine units, not just to tick a box and get around the six-day standstill, but, actually, as part of a health plan that you've developed with your vet, is something that I think is business critical. If we're going to stand firm and be competitive in this brave new world with us being a third country, we've got to be better at biosecurity, and not just be trying to find a quick fix to get around some of the rules; they're very, very important. But you know I would say that anyway, don't you? [Laughter.]
Do either of you two want to add to that?
As the BVA, of course, we support the principles of a six-day standstill for the very reasons that Christianne explained very well there. You just need to make the analogy with COVID-19 as to the requirement of people to self-quarantine, or the requirement of people travelling into the UK now to be in a 10-day quarantine before they mix with other people. So, the principle is really important.
But, I think from a farmer or from a veterinary practitioner's point of view, what's equally important is the way that it's implemented, what sort of system is put in place that's practical, useful, that still allows those economic activities that the farmer undertakes—that they can continue to do that while still protecting their herd, flock or whatever. I recall, probably about 10 years ago, in our practice, a farmer purchased a ram in the autumn and noticed it was scratching a bit, did nothing about it, put it straight out with the ewes, because that's why it was purchased, as a tup or as a ram. And then about February time, three weeks before lambing, he noticed all the ewes were scratching and, at huge expense and with welfare implications, he had to treat all the ewes for sheep scab, whereas had he first put that ram into isolation after coming onto the farm and administered a quarantine treatment to it, he could have avoided the problem. So, there are plenty of good examples of the benefit, based on the principles of quarantining animals coming onto the farm.
The last word to Grace, maybe.
I completely agree with what's been said, and I think it touches on the point about mindset change, between doing things just because you have to do them and actually seeing the value—protecting your own farm and keeping everything else off it so that you actually see that quarantine measure as something that is an insurance policy for you, to make sure you understand what it is you've just bought and to take the opportunity, if you need to, to vaccinate or whatever it is that you need to do. So, I think there's a little bit on the education side to understanding that and maybe not seeing it like just another barrier or a box-ticking thing that's more of an impediment to trade. It's actually a real benefit to your long-term survivability and profitability in farming.
That's a really important point.
At that point, can I thank Grace, Christianne and Ifan for coming along and giving evidence to us today? It's been very helpful, so thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.
Can I now move on to the next item, to note papers 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5 and 4.6? Yes; are you happy to do that?
I just want to say I will want to raise something under the correspondence on the salmon and migratory trout net fishing licence duties.
I expected you to.
We can do that in private, Chair.
Yes, we'll do that in private. Okay.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Can I now—if I can find it here—move the motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting? Is that agreed?
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 16:02.
The public part of the meeting ended at 16:02.