A LOCAL Senedd Member has criticised Conservatives for claiming to speak for farmers while pursuing trade deals which would devastate their industry.

Joyce Watson MS spoke in the Senedd debate about controversial plans to protect Welsh waterways from agricultural pollution. Mrs Watson pointed out that there had been almost 3,000 agricultural pollution incidents in Wales in the last twenty years – more than three a week in the last three years.

Joyce Watson MS (Mid and West Wales) said:
“I thank the Welsh Conservatives for tabling this motion. It affords an early opportunity for this Senedd to debate a critical topic – namely, the health and future of our country’s waterways.

“The motion asks us to note the adverse impact of a government policy on Welsh agriculture – that’s pretty rich coming from a party that would sell Welsh farmers down the river for a free trade deal with Australia – and which has imposed a £137 million UK budget cut on Welsh rural communities.

“But hypocrisy aside, the salient point to argue today is that the all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone will have no such adverse impact, and the standards in the Regulations are in no way excessive. 

“Rather, they establish baseline standards for production in Wales comparable to those in the rest of the UK and Europe – and that alignment will be critical to future trade, especially if Wales is to market ‘Brand Wales’ produce based on sustainability.

“We have heard again today why the Regulations are urgently needed.”Having represented Mid and West Wales since 2007, I have lost track of the number of incidents of serious river pollution from agriculture in that time.

“But I was still shocked to read the figures in black and white:

  • 2,958 substantiated agricultural related pollution incidents in Wales since 2001
  • An average of 148 a year for 20 years
  • More than three a week in the last 3 years.

 “Not acceptable. Not sustainable. And entirely preventable. And it is our moral responsibility to do so.

“The evidence also clearly shows that this is a Wales-wide problem that requires a bold, clear, national solution.

“The 2020 State of Natural Resources Report states that two thirds of our river water bodies fail to achieve good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive classification. 

“Evidence published by NRW in January – on our nine river Special Areas of Conservation – identifies agriculture as a major contributor to pollution levels in these nationally important waters, which exceed legal limits. 

“And more than 60% of protected rivers in Wales exceed phosphate pollution limits.

“So I think it is disingenuous for Plaid Cymru members to suggest that we can achieve the crucial environmental benefits they say they want to see – just by tinkering around the fringes of this, with voluntary and local regulations.

“The truth of the matter is that unless we take urgent action to control pollution at source, it will be too late to recover our river ecosystems.

“The all-Wales nitrate vulnerable zone Regulation is a wholly proportionate tool that will help tackle the nature and climate emergency, and thereby support sustainable farming now and for the future.”