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From the debate in Westminster Hall on September 13th 2012


Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I have waited two and a half years for this moment. It is really sad that, as a nation of tea drinkers, we cannot organise a fair price for the milk that goes into it. Even more sad is the fact that in 2003 and 2004, we compiled a Select Committee report on milk pricing, and very little has changed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) rightly said, it is wrong that the middle men take the lion's share of the profit from the milk market.

I am not sure whether it is on the record, but I own and breed Hereford cattle, and one big problem for dairy farmers is knowing that the product that they work so hard to produce is grossly undervalued by their customers. There is also another problem. Imagine how Robert Wiseman would feel if one of his beautiful black and white lorries was crushed every time it failed its MOT, or Sainsbury's or Tesco had their building bulldozed if it failed a health and safety inspection. That is what happens when a farmer fails a TB test.

Probably no hon. Member has taken a TB test, so I will explain what it is like. It is quite easy on day one when a farmer puts his cattle through the crush because the cattle do not know what is going to happen. The vet comes along and very carefully and professionally gives the cattle two injections, one for avian TB and the other for bovine TB. The cows do not think much of that. Three days later, the vet comes back to feel whether the bovine bump is larger than the avian one and whether the cows have been exposed to tuberculosis. The cows do not know that they are not going to get jabbed, so they do not want to go through the crush and will fight to dodge it, and that, I am afraid, makes the whole process extremely dangerous.

My little boy, Jack, who is only seven, got kicked. My cows weigh 900 kilos, which is quite a lot more than me, and when they want to go somewhere, they will go. It is tough for farmers, and they get hurt. At least two of them have been killed in the time that I have been a Member of Parliament. It is extremely difficult for people who do not see this sort of activity to understand why the milk price has to reflect the risk that these people take, why it is so important that the Government continue with their agenda to fight this disease and to beat it, and why the Minister should go further than we are at the moment and allow the badger culls to go ahead and be trialled. I support the culls, because I have heard the misery of the farmers. They used to ring me up and cry down the phone when they started shooting their bull calves and I completely sympathised with them.

I have worked with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Compassion in World Farming and all sorts of other people in the efforts to stop the export of live calves. Blade farming has now done a great deal of good in providing a market for those dairy bull calves. When I was elected in 2001, we had the smell

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of burning flesh from the foot and mouth outbreak. Farmers have been through absolute hell. I urge the Minister to use all his charm, skill and wit to persuade the European Commission to allow vaccination for cattle as soon as possible. Even if badger culling succeeds, we can do more both for the people and for the cattle.

At the moment, farmers who live in a four-year testing area do not have to test for pre-movement. That is good, because the process is dangerous and unpleasant for both the farmer and his cattle. We need to recognise, too, the economic disadvantages of the process. It costs about £100 to do a pre-movement test for a cow. If the cow leaves a farmer's property, it must be done and it lasts only for up to 60 days. A farmer may also wish to bring in a bull to see his cows. There is a lot more to this than just producing milk.

I have some fantastic dairy farmers, although they are smaller in number now. They are buying their cows from France because they are scared stiff of having TB on their farms. If they are shut down, their cattle will continue to produce calves and their sheds will become full. Calves need proper ventilation otherwise they get pneumonia. They have to be looked after properly. If a farmer is shut down they cannot do that, so their sheds fill up and they have more and more cattle on their property. The chance of a respiratory infection being passed through is increased and they are in a real mess. Again, that is more risk for the dairy farmer that is not reflected in the price.

Worse, farmers will be given the DEFRA compensation table, which has two sides - pedigree and non-pedigree. Hon. Members must urge their constituents to buy pedigree cattle because the compensation and the way in which it is calculated are significantly better. Moreover, it is taken over a six-month period instead of a one-month period. A pedigree heifer is worth £1,798 and a non-pedigree only £895, so a farmer will lose a great deal of money if they do not have pedigree stock. If they do not buy their pedigree stock from the UK, there is no market for those heifer calves that are being reared. Again, the vicious circle goes on. It is even worse than that because if the Government are paying more compensation, the price to the taxpayer goes up - we are heading now towards £100 million.

The dairy industry is racked not only by the price that we receive for milk but by the disproportionate risk that these people are taking, which is why the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on the risk to the families was so important. I urge the Government to do everything they can to support this vulnerable group of people.