A Senedd committee will urgently review new Wales-wide anti-pollution laws after opposition parties united to condemn the government's plans.

In a bid to cut farming contributions to water pollution, the Welsh Government is expanding the reach of so-called Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs), from 2.8 per cent of the country's agricultural land to 100 per cent, over the next three years.

It means every farmer in Wales will have to abide by strict rules on the storage and use of products like fertiliser and slurry. The government says the rules will boost Wales as a world-leader in tackling pollution, but farming unions have led the opposition to the new laws, saying they will leave farmers hopelessly out-of-pocket as they try to conform.

In the Senedd, Brecon and Radnorshire MS James Evans said evidence from similar schemes around the world showed the new NVZ law was "ineffective and [like using] a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

The National Wales: Senedd, Brecon and Radnorshire MS James EvansSenedd, Brecon and Radnorshire MS James Evans

He challenged the government's claims that agriculture was a leading cause of water pollution and said the new rules were forcing "large cost burdens onto our farmers".

"Whilst one pollution incident is one too many, a blanket policy is hurting the industry at a time when they need support," the Conservative MS said, adding that the government had "pushed ahead" with the new laws despite "scathing reviews from all the farming unions in Wales".


Plaid Cymru MS Cefin Campbell said the government had "rushed through" the NVZ regulations before the recent election.

He told the Senedd the laws "contravene specialist recommendations made by Natural Resources Wales" that, he said, proposed focusing on the eight per cent of areas that face the highest risks.

The regional member for Mid and West Wales said the Welsh Government's financial support was "totally inadequate" to help farmers meet their NVZ obligations, and asked why Wales was "moving full pelt in the other direction" when England was cutting back on similar laws there.

"What will happen as a result is that many family farms will decide to leave the industry, and the impact of that on rural Wales will be utterly disastrous," he told MSs.

Jane Dodds, who represents the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Senedd, said there were other solutions for deadling with the irresponsible use of slurry.

"According to some experts, this is not suitable for 90 per cent of Welsh farming land," the Mid and West Wales MS said. "It is not proportionate and affordable, because farmers cannot afford another demand for more expense to build storage, putting them in debt, as well as the extra bureaucratic pressures."

As reported by The National, some farmers have warned the NVZ laws will "cripple the industry" in Wales, forcing many landowners to sell off their cattle. Dairy farmer Bryan Jones, from Montgomeryshire, estimated a £70,000 bill for his family business to comply with the rules.

In the Senedd, his constituency MS Russell George said the NVZ laws "should never have been introduced," calling them "unnecessary, disproportionate and devastating to the farming industry".

The National Wales: Montgomeryshire dairy farmer Bryan Jones. Picture: FUWMontgomeryshire dairy farmer Bryan Jones. Picture: FUW

Other condemnations of the rules came from Janet Finch-Saunders, Peter Fox and Samuel Kurtz (all Welsh Conservatives) and Plaid Cymru's Llyr Gruffydd.

But Welsh Labour's Joyce Watson defended the government's plans, saying the new rules for farmers would have "no such adverse impact" and established standards for production that were in line with the UK and Europe and "critical to future trade".

The Mid and West Wales MS said regulations were "urgently needed" with an avedrage of 148 agriculture-related pollution incidents in Wales each year since 2001.

"That is definitely not acceptable, that is definitely not sustainable, but it is entirely preventable, and it is our moral duty here to do something," Watson added.

Rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths said the government wants Welsh farmers to be "the most climate and nature-friendly in the world" but "levels of pollution caused by nitrates, phosphorus and ammonia exceed critical thresholds across Wales".

She added: "Before the industry can claim to be the most climate and nature-friendly in the world, all of our farms must first adopt recognised good-practice standards of production."

Griffiths acknowledged the work to meet the new regulations "will be challenging for some in the industry" and called on stakeholders and farming unions who opposed the NVZ expansion to "put forward viable proposals for alternative measures that will deliver equal or greater reductions in pollution".

At voting time, the Conservatives' original motion, which called on the Senedd to note the "adverse impact" the NVZ laws would have on Welsh agriculture and for a committee to review the rules, was tied at 29-29, with the deputy presiding officer using his deciding vote in opposition.

But a Labour amendment, which removed the mention of "adverse impact" in favour of a more positive description of the laws – while retaining the call for a committee review – was passed after opposition MSs abstained.

All 58 voting Senedd members then opted in favour of the amended motion, meaning a Senedd committee must "urgently review" the NVZ laws and "present its recommendations" to the Welsh Parliament.

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