Government update on Welsh TB programme amid ‘deep frustration’ from farmers

The Welsh Government has provided an update on its TB eradication programme - but some say it does not go far enough.

According to rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths, there has been a 48% decrease in new TB incidents since 2009.

Speaking as she launched a 12-week consultation on proposed enhancements to the programme, Ms Griffiths said: “Bovine TB has a devastating impact on the farming industry and we must do all we can to protect our cattle herds from this disease.

“We have seen good progress since our programme was first established, with long term decreases in incidence and prevalence. 

“A key aim of our programme is the rapid, accurate, early identification of infection and we strive to improve TB diagnostics, embracing new research and being open to new validated tests.”

What is the TB Eradication Programme?

Lesley Griffiths, Rural Affairs Minister

The TB Eradication Programme sets out the Welsh Government’s long-term vision for the eradication of bovine TB in Wales. 

It is based on the four key principles of infectious disease control: Keep it Out, Find it Fast, Stop it Spreading and Stamp it Out.

A regionalised approach to TB eradication was launched in 2017 creating low, intermediate and high TB areas.

Farmers 'remain deeply frustrated'

NFU Cymru says farms have seen nearly 100,000 cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB in the last decade.

Despite the Welsh Government’s perception of ‘good progress’ on its eradication programme, some Welsh farmers say this does not reflect their experience.

NFU Cymru says farms have seen nearly 100,000 cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB in the last decade.

Following the minister’s statement, the union expressed its concern over some of the options put forward for consideration around compensation. 

NFU Cymru president John Davies said: “Farming businesses under bovine TB restrictions suffer significant financial pressures as a result of the constraints on trading and consequential losses associated with this disease being on farm. 

“Our members remain deeply frustrated that the ability to tackle and get on top of this disease has, for so many years, been hampered by the fact that Welsh Government policy measures see politics, all too often, override the science.

“Farmers will be extremely concerned to read the options put forward by Welsh Government with regards to compensation arrangements. 

“NFU Cymru categorically rejects any move to tabular valuations. NFU Cymru’s firm view is that compensation arrangements must reflect the value of the animal’s individual merits, and this can only be achieved via an individual valuation.” 

Abi Reader has lost approximately a third of her cattle to the disease over the past three years

Abi Reader is a dairy farmer, and hasn't been able to move cattle off her farm for two years because of the disease.

"We've lost approximately a quarter of the herd over the past three years", she said.

"We're so close and now we've got two inconclusive on the farm. It's gutting.

"As dairy farmers or as livestock farmers, it's hard not to become emotionally attached to your animals and I think our consumers expect us to. Watching animal after animal after animal being loaded onto a lorry or worst case scenario being shot on the farm, really takes its toll."

Plan needs ‘beefing up’

The union’s view is echoed by Welsh Conservative MS Samuel Kurtz who said the plan needs “beefing up” to deliver quicker results for farmers and livestock.

Mr Kurtz, the Welsh Conservatives’ shadow rural affairs minister, said: “Bovine TB is a horrible disease that not only risks the lives of cattle and wildlife but, consequently, leads to emotional and economic heartache for farmers who must destroy their livestock too.

“We’ve seen 13 years of TB policy in Wales make small inroads into eradicating the disease and allowing us to be officially TB clear. We continue to go around in circles without addressing the serious root cause of the issue.

Welsh Conservative MS Samuel Kurtz said the plan needs “beefing up” to deliver quicker results for farmers and livestock.

“Given its impact, it’s surely been the most pressing aspect in the Minister’s in-tray. Therefore, a set-piece annual statement and new consultation further adds to the feeling that the Welsh Government’s priority is not to support the industry and eradicate the disease, but rather kick the can down the road.  

“Progress continues to be slow and this provides no comfort to Welsh farmers.

“While a breakthrough on an effective vaccine is still a few years away, there are actions that can be taken now such as the use of the more accurate tests and working to rid the disease from wildlife and I have urged the Minister to not rely on a single tool which isn’t accessible until the distant future.”

The government has also announced that badger trap and test work will be phased out from this year.

In addition, a review will take place on options to supplement veterinary capacity for TB testing through greater use of appropriately trained and supervised paraprofessional staff.

The government has also announced that badger trap and test work will be phased out from this year

Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop said: “We remain steadfast in our commitment and determination to rid Wales of a disease which has far reaching repercussions throughout the Welsh farming industry.

“Year on year we have made enhancements to our programme and introduced many fundamental policies which changed the TB landscape across Wales and laid foundations for the future.

“We continue to support the development of a deployable cattle TB vaccine with a test to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals to be in place by 2025.

“Cattle vaccination has the potential to become a powerful tool in the battle against the disease and we will be engaging with the TB Centre of Excellence to plan its most appropriate deployment in Wales.”