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Fenland District Council voted in favour of promoting farmers’ mental health

Farmers’ mental health should be considered a risk by healthcare providers, a council has said.

Fenland District Council (FDC) voted in favour of calls to request Cambridgeshire County Council’s (CCC) public health department and the North Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Care Partnership to include the item on their registers of risk.

They should also generally promote “awareness of mental health risks to farmers”, FDC says, which Cllr Tim Taylor (Conservatives, March West and Benwick) said goes unseen.

The meeting was held at Fenland Hall
The meeting was held at Fenland Hall

“Farmers don’t talk to people,” he said at an FDC meeting this week. “We do not ring people up and one of the reasons we don’t ring people up is because, the minute we make a phone call about mental health issues, within 30 minutes we’ve got a knock on the door from the firearms department to take [our] guns”.

Cllr Taylor, who brought the vote to the meeting, added that concerns over Bluetongue disease and Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is causing “increasing amounts of stress” among farmers in Fenland, with one recently contacting him to say he’d lost 150 cows in two years to skin tests which he believes rendered false positives.

Farmers lose animals to testing, but are only compensated a small amount of their value, Cllr Taylor continued, while consumers still pay full price for their meat.

“Even cows that have been slaughtered for bTB [testing] end up in the human food chain,” he said. “It ends up in your lasagnes, your mince pies, your beef burgers in your freezers. Welcome to the real world of farming; there is no rule to throw that animal out.”

Councillors also voted to write to North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay – who is also Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – to request that routine tBT testing is done via blood tests rather than skin tests, which Cllr Taylor says are quicker and more accurate and will result in “fewer uninfected cattle being unnecessarily slaughtered”.

They have also asked that any qualified vet be allowed to test for Bluetongue rather than just Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) vets, which takes far longer.

Defra offers reassurance on disease rates

Bluetongue has been identified in Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk in recent months, but Defra says there is “no evidence that there is circulating virus” and that the non-contagious disease doesn’t harm people or food safety.

While bTB can harm humans if transmitted from cows, Cambridgeshire is classified by Defra as a low risk area for the disease.

In the East of England, “the incidence of bTB is very low and stable and most cattle herds are routinely tested every four years,” it says.

Cllr Steve Tierney (Conservatives, Wisbech South) said it was “refreshing” to see the council stand up for farmers.

“It’s really refreshing to have someone at FDC – in this rural community – speaking out on behalf of farmers and the issues that affect them because it’s so important and I just don’t think we discuss it enough,” he said. “Right now, all over Europe, farmers are protesting policies that are damaging and harming them and nobody seems to be speaking out for them.”

Greener agricultural policies, such as a requirement to cut emissions and grow trees on their land, have sparked protests in the EU and the UK.

FDC is leading the way for farmers, Cllr Taylor said, as one of the only councils in the country with a farming committee.

East Cambridgeshire and South Cambridgeshire district councils are among those which have contacted him for advice on setting up their own, he added.

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