MS apologises for saying farmers affected by TB should ‘find another business’
An MS who suggested farmers affected by bovine TB should “find another business” has apologised for her comments.
Joyce Watson MS said she had been “clumsy” with her comments during an update on bovine TB cases from Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths last week.
Ms Watson had said: “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.”
As a regional member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales, Ms Watson represents a significant number of Welsh dairy farmers.
NFU Cymru wrote to the MS to call for an apology and underline the hurt caused by her comments to many farming families in Wales who are affected by bovine TB.
During the business statement and announcement by the Trefnydd on Tuesday (November 21) Ms Watson said: “During last week’s statement on bovine tuberculosis, I attempted to explore issues around recurring breakdown. It’s important that Members speak freely, truth through argument, and all that, but we must always do so responsibly.
“In this case, I was clumsy and I didn’t express myself terribly well, and I’m sorry for any upset that was caused. I should have been clearer that I was talking about farms that have been continuously impacted by TB and the ongoing pressures of the current system.
“I know that the cycle of having to test, to cull, then to start all over again causes huge stress. In those cases, I think there should be a conversation about how that situation can be resolved, or at least improved, and diversification should be part of that. So, I would appreciate an update on Welsh Government support for farmers looking for help to do that.”
Earlier during an exchange between the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies and Mark Drakeford, the First Minister appeared to apologise on behalf of Ms Watson also.
He said: “On the floor of the Senedd, Members are able to ask questions and express views. We often end up doing it in a shorthanded way because of the nature of debate here.
“I’ve read since that Joyce Watson has explained that, had she had an opportunity to set out her views more fully, it was never her intention to suggest that people would be forced off the land.
“It was more a matter of expressing concern for the well-being of people who, time after time in those hotspot areas, find that, having taken action to attempt to eradicate TB, the disease comes back, and the very adverse impact that that must have on those families.”
The Countryside Alliance said the comments from the First Minister were far from an apology.
On X, formerly Twitter, a spokesperson said: “While we are grateful that Joyce Watson’s appalling comments about TB and dairy farmers were called into question today, this response from Mark Drakeford is far from an apology. It is sadly symbolic of the huge disconnect between Cardiff and the countryside.”
In a statement, Rachel Evans, Director of Countryside Alliance Wales said: “ Joyce Watson’s comments were hurtful and wrong. While it has taken far too long, we accept she has now apologised, albeit for causing upset rather than for making the specific remarks that she did.
“We cannot downplay the significant negative impact her comments, combined with the general approach of the Welsh Labour Government towards the countryside, have had in recent months.
“There is a clear disconnect between the policy decision making process in Cardiff and rural Wales, which Mark Drakeford and his Government must urgently fix, for the good of the nation”.
Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs and Welsh Language, Samuel Kurtz MS said:“I appreciate Joyce Watson clarifying her comments, but I think the sector would have much preferred an apology following her comments which caused unnecessary hurt, especially amongst those dairy farmers in the tight grip of continuous TB restrictions.
“NFU Cymru have invited Joyce to visit a dairy farm and I would strongly encourage her to accept this offer. Farmers are doing all that has been asked of them by the Welsh Government when it comes to TB eradication. We’re not going to eradicate Bovine TB from Wales unless all Members can fully appreciate the serious impact it has on Welsh farms, the farmers, and their families.”
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