Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Nick Read. the Associate Agricultural Chaplain for Hereford Diocese provides a monthly briefing on agricultural issues. Here is April's briefing:-

GM update
Britain’s first field trial of genetically modified (GM) wheat has started at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, amidst tight security. The wheat has been modified to produce a non-toxic odour from a naturally occurring chemical found in peppermint plants known to repel aphids and attract predators that kill aphids. The trials are funded by the Biological Sciences Research Council and do not involve commercial sponsorship. It is the third GM trial in the UK, the others both involve GM potatoes.

Morrisons supermarkets have dropped a GM-free feed requirement for poultrymeat and eggs on the grounds that there is no evidence that GM material is transferred through feed. This has prompted demands from the Soil Association for all GM products to be clearly labelled. The UK has a high dependence on imported soya imports to supply the poultry sector, and many of these contain GM produce.

Bovine TB update
The Welsh Environment Minister, John Griffiths, has rejected plans for a badger cull in Wales (see previous notes) in favour of a badger-vaccination programme, and he has asked Wales’ Chief Veterinary Officer to design a five-year vaccination programme. The Welsh Government expects to vaccinate around 70% of the badger population in the North Pembrokeshire “Intensive Action Area” (IAA), the area originally designated for a badger cull. In response, the British Veterinary Association has disputed whether a vaccination programme for badgers would be effective and the NFU in Wales is considering a legal challenge against the decision. Meanwhile, the Badger Trust in England has sought permission for a judicial review of Defra’s decision in December to carry out two pilot culls in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire.

The panel of independent experts who will oversee the badger culls in England have been named. It will be chaired by Christopher Wathes, Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. The other members are: Ranald Munro, a forensic pathologist and former head of pathology at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency; Neville Gregory, Professor of Animal Welfare Physiology at the Royal Veterinary College; Piran White, Deputy Head of the Environment Department at York University; Timothy Roper, Emeritus Professor at Sussex University and an expert in badger behaviour; and Peter Watson, Executive Director of the Deer Initiative.

New EU regulations introduced at the end of January, which prevent livestock farmers from restocking for 60 days after a positive TB test, are causing severe problems for many livestock farmers and disruption to the supply chain as people are prevented from replacing lost cattle. Dairy farmers face lower milk yields and calf-rearers are not able to trade as normal.

Weather issues
Official drought status has been declared over the whole of the South East, the Anglian Region and East and South Yorkshire as England and Wales received only 32% and 81% respectively of its long term rainfall average for March. Groundwater levels, which are below normal in all but four indicator sites across the country, are unlikely to be recharged before the summer. Restrictions on agricultural abstractions have been imposed in East Anglia, the South East and the Midlands. A “drought group” has been established, chaired by the CEO of the Environment Agency, which plans to meet on a bi-monthly basis.

The unseasonably warm, dry weather is also raising fears of increased midge activity, which as a vector for the Schmallenberg Virus (see February briefing) could lead to more cases of the virus. By the end of March the virus had been detected on 223 farms covering 22 counties, though primarily in Kent, West and East Sussex. This compares to over 1,000 cases recorded in Germany and over 800 in France.

Sow stalls
By 1st January 2013 it will be illegal across the EU to house sows in stalls, which restrict their movement, except for the first four weeks of gestation. Stalls were introduced partly because of the high levels of mortality that occur as sows roll over, crushing feeding piglets. Sow stalls and tethers were banned in the UK in 1999, leading to higher costs of production for the UK pig industry relative to European competitors; the higher welfare standards did not translate into higher prices for UK producers. There is increasing concern that a majority of European Member states will not be compliant with the legislation by the January 1st deadline. 12 expect to be fully compliant, 7 expect to be 90% compliant and 5 between 70-89% compliant. Three appear to have made no provisions. UK representatives expect the EU to exact penalties against non-compliance though identifying whether piglets had been born in compliant or non-compliant systems will be difficult. The UK is planning to resurrect a “Pig Industry Task Force” to bring retailers and suppliers together to try and get an agreement that retailers will only source from compliant sources.

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