Over the last few years we have made significant progress towards eradicating bovine TB in Wales.
Currently 95 per cent of herds in Wales are TB free. The number of new incidents of bovine TB has fallen by more than 40 per cent since its peak in 2009.
This is real progress, but we now want to dig deeper and take a more targeted approach to dealing with the specific causes of the spread of the disease in Wales. Reactor numbers have increased over the last two years, however, primarily due to increased use of more sensitive gamma interferon testing, which identifies infected cattle quicker.
The Welsh Government recently published its strengthened TB Eradication Programme, building on the success of our programme so far. The disease picture varies across Wales and we are now establishing separate regions based on TB incidence.
From October 1 this year, low, intermediate and high TB areas will be in place. Enhanced measures will be applied in each area tailored to protect the low TB area and reduce the disease in intermediate and high TB areas. This includes introducing post-movement testing in the low TB area from October 1, and in the intermediate TB area next year.
The priority for high TB areas is to continue to reduce the number of breakdowns. Around 10 per cent of our current TB breakdowns are described as ’persistent’ (lasting longer than 18 months). We are developing bespoke action plans for each of these 60-70 breakdowns to address all risk pathways.
As we continue to bear down on disease, we must tackle all infection pathways, including wildlife. Our Badger Found Dead survey provides evidence on the disease dynamic between cattle and badgers.
Our action plan for persistent TB breakdowns will explore wildlife drivers of disease. Where there is objective evidence of infection we are proposing to trap, test and humanely kill badgers.
Parallels are being drawn between this approach and reactive culling within the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (the treatment stopped early due to concerns about increasing incidence of TB in those areas), but our protocol will be different on many counts.
In particular we would humanely kill badgers only on chronic breakdown herds where there is evidence to support their involvement.
This would be applied alongside other measures aimed at cutting off all herd-specific risk pathways. We would monitor effects carefully and apply lessons learned as work progressed.
We are employing all available tools as necessary to stamp out infection in our most difficult and expensive breakdowns as we progress towards our goal of TB-free Wales.