Industry-wide ruminant group to tackle endemic diseases across the UK

A new UK-wide cattle and sheep industry group is to be created to speed up progress against endemic diseases and reputational challenges which are costing the cattle and sheep sectors at least £500 million per year.

An industry consultation* on creating the new group had a strong majority supporting the move in principle, with many believing it will accelerate work to control conditions like liver fluke, mastitis and lameness.

As a result, the new Ruminant Health and Welfare Group (RHWG) will be formed on April 1.

The consultation was facilitated on behalf of the ruminant industry by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) and Livestock and Meat Commission (Northern Ireland)

Rebecca Geraghty, AHDB Chief Technical Officer, said: “The case for change is compelling. Despite a number of worthwhile initiatives and significant progress in some areas to date, endemic diseases in ruminants continue to have a major impact on our industry’s performance and profitability.

“We are in unprecedented times. Due to Brexit and potential changes to both our operating environment and consumer preferences, we face challenges and opportunities which can be better managed by a robust ruminant industry with world-leading health and welfare.

“Reducing the scale and impact of endemic diseases in a meaningful way would build our industry’s resilience in the face of economic challenges such as Brexit. It would also go a significant way to improving our environmental impact.

“In terms of export of meat and dairy, there has been a broad recognition that having a high national animal health and welfare status would enable the UK to access more markets.

“The broad agreement from discussions with government, devolved administrations and industry over the past 18 months is that the time is right for a clear, united UK-wide industry voice. This would act as a welcome driver for a simpler, more co-ordinated and more widely committed approach to ruminant health and welfare across all parts of the UK.

“We are excited at facilitating and supporting the formation of this new umbrella group and look forward to it making a real difference in ruminant health and welfare to the benefit of everyone involved in livestock farming.”

None of the 60 responses to the consultation disagreed with the principle of improving the health and welfare of all ruminant livestock. There was universal recognition that ‘disease knows no boundaries’ and that discussions on how to accelerate improvement were commendable. There were, however, both common benefits and concerns raised across stakeholder categories, irrespective of whether they agreed or disagreed with the proposal, which the new Group will need to consider.

The RHWG will be an independent industry group, but set-up as a committee under the AHDB operating umbrella to minimise operating costs and governance complexities. Technical and scientific expertise will be central to its work and will be sought for individual projects as appropriate.

AHDB will provide beef, sheep and dairy levy-funding for RHWG to cover the cost of the chair and secretariat. This will predominantly come from the existing AHDB funding for the Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG) and Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG), in England. There will be a transition period from 1 April 2020 for these committees to work alongside the RHWG and agree which workstreams will be transferred and which will close.

The recruitment process to find a chair for RHWG started today. The closing date for applications is Thursday 20 February. Application details can be found on the AHDB careers portal


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.