Welsh Dairy Show preview

Viewpoints on the delay to the bTB eradication programme

One of the main talking points at the Welsh Dairy Show will be bovine TB and the Welsh Government-imposed delay in introducing an all-embracing eradication programme. Environment Minister John Griffiths has promised to publish the findings of the independent scientific panel’s on-going review by the end of the year - and carry through its recommendations. Barry Alston asked the TB spokesmen from the two Welsh farming unions for their input.

Stephen James

NFU Cymru deputy president and Pembrokeshire dairy farmer

WE will be using the Welsh Dairy Show to highlight the severe difficulties bovine TB continues to cause farmers throughout Wales.

Cattle farmers fully understand they have an important role to play in eradicating the disease.

This is especially the case among farmers in the north Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area, who have complied with all the additional cattle controls imposed on them since May 2010.

They accepted the extra controls on the understanding they were part of a comprehensive package of measures to eradicate the disease, including measures to deal with the reservoir of infection in wildlife.

There is no doubt in my mind the scientific evidence shows a clear link between the disease in badgers and cattle.

This is confirmed by the evidence from other countries where the difficult, but correct, political decision has already been taken to tackle the disease in wildlife.

For example, we can see the success the Irish Republic has had in reducing the incidence of disease.

Between 2000 and 2010, while the number of animals slaughtered in Wales under bovine TB control measures increased by a staggering 549 per cent, the number of TB reactors in Ireland over the same period fell by nearly 51 per cent.

The difference between Ireland and Wales is purely down to the decision to introduce a wildlife control strategy in infected areas.

As the Irish are proving, you can get a grip on this disease if you employ a twin-track approach and address cattle-to-cattle spread at the same time as breaking the wildlife-bovine cycle.

As part of the Wales eradication programme, stricter cattle controls, increased testing and a zero tolerance approach to non-compliance with the regulations have already been adopted.

Herd health planning, including biosecurity protocols, are being applied to reduce the risk of disease introduction and its spread, and farmers are working closely with their vets.

For their part, farmers are doing all they can in implementing the strict cattle controls and biosecurity measures, but since this is not the sole source of infection and disease transmission - we will never win this battle alone.

It also requires the Welsh Government to deal with the reservoir of infection in wildlife.

The present position is not sustainable. The current Welsh Government must commit to putting the comprehensive TB eradication programme back on track - without further delay.

Brian Walters

Farmers Union of Wales vice-president and Carmarthenshire dairy farmer.

AFTER reading the statements by anti-cull organisations and articles by numerous journalists, any member of the general public would be bamboozled into thinking there is some question over whether culling really works.

Yet the science is clear. Even when you cull in an inconsistent and inefficient way, as happened in the English Randomised Badger Culling Trials’ (RBCT) proactive culling areas, culling reduces the chances of going down with TB and the positive effects last for years.

It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that removing a major source of infection will lead to fewer animals becoming infected. However, the real question is how well it can be expected to work and whether it is worthwhile.

The mass of scientific information and calculations considered by Elin Jones, the previous Welsh Assembly Government Minister with responsibilities for TB, indicates badger culling ticks both these boxes.

Unfortunately, that evidence was discarded by the incoming Government and most of us feel Labour’s commitment to ‘review the science’ yet again was nothing more than a cynical move by those wanting an easy escape route while canvassing.

Whatever the reasons for the review, the reality is this further delay is likely to cost north Pembrokeshire farmers a great deal of money and the lives of many cattle.

The farming industry has greeted the decision to put the cull on hold with anger and frustration, with the huge financial burden of the disease and its associated restrictions having an enormous impact.

From the outset we have argued that all aspects of the eradication programme should be taken forward in unison. Yet all we have seen so far is a severe increase in cattle restrictions, without any action being taken to control the massive disease reservoir present in the badger population.

Statistics on TB in cattle and badgers across Wales show the rate of TB in badgers is around 32 times higher than it is in cattle.

In the past five years more than 44,000 cattle have been culled in Wales due to TB. We cannot keep stalling matters in order to avoid difficult decisions in relation to culling badgers.

Let us hope the scientists undertaking this latest review make the facts clear to the Minister, rather than generating a smokescreen which many of us feel is exactly what the Independent Science Group did in 2007.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Where does Brian 'Walters get his "facts" from? His claim that TB is 32 times higher in badgers than cattle "across Wales" has no foundation in fact. He says it isn't rocket science to work out that if you remove a major source of infection (ie, badgers) you will have less infection. The ISG surveys proved the opposite. Local eradication --the sort of illegal activity now so widespread on farms--makes bTB worse. Widespread eradication of badgers promises only marginal improvements over a very long period and carries the very real threat of increased disease spread, thanks to perturbation, a characteristic peculiar to badgers and one of the reasons why these repeated references to wildlife culling in other countries are totally misleading. The example of New Zealand and its multi million population of possum is probably one of the worst examples that could be cited. Badgers and possum—and the threat they pose-- are as different as chalk and cheese. The farmers' case would be more convincing if it weren't for the deliberate flouting of bovine TB regulations by farmers (the classic example is ear tag swapping), their failure to provide clean, well ventilated winter housing for their cattle, their failure, too, to heed warnings that biosecurity is important and that strict cleansing of all yards, lorries, sheds and barns where reactor cattle have been kept is vital. Recently introduced tougher cattle control measures in Wales are paying off and ,as he well knows, they have unearthed huge numbers of diseased cattle which otherwise would have remained undetected. Decades of cattle mismanagement (and especially the ineffective, unreliable skin testing) won't be cured overnight.

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  • @anonymous, You are right, biosecurity is important, vital even. So why do you allow badgers to roam across farm boundaries and ask the farmer to "strict cleansing of all yards, lorries, sheds and barns where reactor cattle have been kept" The farmer should have the right to prevent badgers, infected or not, from mixing with his cattle

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  • Agreed, so then why not actually follow biosecurity measures then? http://www.viva.org.uk/campaigns/badgers/biosecurity.html

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  • Please will someone direct me to the report which says there are 32x more badgers than cattle with TB. If you cant, please retract the statement.

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  • The 32 times higher in badgers statement is nonsense,I agree with the request to retract it.I agree with everything "anonymous" says.

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  • The Peasant
    Brian Walters has put the RBCTrials in their proper perspective. When will we have a retraction and apology from all the misguided people, including Brian May, who have insisted that they proved that culling doesn't work? BK, Ceeferman and rose bloor, you are just self righteous hypocrites

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