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Senedd member’s “appalling” comments on bovine TB create backlash

Joyce Watson, Mid & West Wales MS, has been fiercely criticised for suggesting farms with perpetual TB status should “find another business”.

Stock photo for illustration only.

NFU Cymru has condemned MS Joyce Watson’s recent comments on farming families battling bovine TB as “deplorable, insensitive and shocking”.

During yesterday’s plenary session (14th November) the minister for rural affairs made a statement on bovine TB eradication. In the discussion that followed, Joyce Watson said: 

“But if we’re talking about a rethink, Minister, have you looked at any farms that have perpetual TB status, and have you considered the question of whether those particular farms should be dairy farms at all? 

“Because if it is the case that they are in perpetual TB infection status, surely they need to find another business.”

Calls for an apology

Rachel Evans, director for Wales at the Countryside Alliance responded to the comments in a video on X, formerly Twitter: “That statement was absolutely appalling and has only added to the woes and stresses for those farmers who are down with TB. 

“That was pre-scripted, it wasn’t given out to the chamber on a whim, it was written down, it was thought about and prepared. 

“Joyce Watson you owe your constituents an apology and the sooner that comes the better.”

NFU Cymru deputy president Abi Reader also condemned the comments in a video on X, calling them “thoughtless and best, unkind at worst”. 

“Myself and Alex have both experienced first hand the trauma that bovine TB can cause in herds. We fully understand what many people will be feeling right now,” she added.

However, she said a number of positives also came out of the session and made special reference to minister for rural affairs Lesley Griffiths and Sam Kurtz MS, who noted the success of the Pembrokeshire TB Project, as well as Mabon ap Gwynfor MS who spoke about the NFU Cymru Bovine TB Survey.

Lacking empathy and respect 

NFU Cymru has written to the MS to underline the hurt caused by these comments to many farming families across the country who are affected by bTB.

Bovine TB focus group chairman Roger Lewis said: “I was truly saddened and disappointed to hear your insensitive comments in the Senedd following the statement made by minister Lesley Griffiths in relation to the Bovine TB Eradication Programme. 

“I am struggling to put into words my frustration that a member of the Senedd elected to represent Mid & West Wales could make such deplorable comments, so lacking in empathy and respect for the farming families in your constituency going through the emotional hell of dealing with an outbreak of bovine TB on their farm. 

“Your suggestion that these families, many of whom are suffering persistent bovine TB breakdowns despite adhering to strict veterinary and scientific advice, should just walk away and find another business is – frankly – shocking.”

Joyce Watson was invited to spend a day learning about the Pembrokeshire Bovine TB Project, and to meet some of the farming families who are working hard to rid the countryside of bTB. The project is led by local farmers and vets seeking to find solutions to this disease within the constraints that have been set by Welsh Government policy decisions, Mr Lewis added.

Joyce Watson has been approached for comment.

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