Farmers have blasted the Welsh Government’s refreshed policy on bovine TB as ‘wholly inadequate’.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths announced a new regionalised approach for tackling the disease this week, with Wales being split into low, intermediate and high-risk areas based on TB incidence levels.
High-risk areas will be subject to six monthly testing and chronic breakdown herds will be given individual action plans developed by farmers and vets.
Ms Griffiths said she wanted to ‘build on the success’ of current policy, which she claimed had seen the number of new TB incidents fall by 19 per cent and the number of herds under TB restrictions fall by 10 per cent.
But she was criticised by other assembly members for being ‘sanguine’ as the number of cattle culled has increased in recent years.
NFU Cymru president Stephen James pointed to the fact cattle continue to be slaughtered at an alarming rate as a result of bTB infection.
He said: “Over the past 12 months, nearly 9,500 cattle have been slaughtered as a result of this disease, a 38 per cent increase from last year.
“The situation is even worse in endemic areas of the country, with Pembrokeshire suffering a 40 per cent increase in slaughtered cattle, Carmarthenshire 78 per cent and Clywd increasing 137 per cent from last year.”
In her statement, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths acknowledged the link between cattle and wildlife, promising to learn lessons from Northern Ireland, where infected badgers were cage-trapped and humanely destroyed.
But she continued to claim there is little understanding of how TB spreads between cattle and badgers and said ‘farmers do not have the answers’.
Ms Griffiths’ refusal to bear down more heavily on the wildlife vector was panned by her colleagues in the assembly and farming unions.
Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts said: “Targeting infected badgers would be a welcome move, but it is disappointing it has taken so many years to move back towards common sense after the original comprehensive plan to tackle the disease in wildlife was abandoned by the previous Welsh Government.”
Jonathan Wilkinson farms at Meifod, Powys, in one of the new high-risk areas and has had cattle test positive for TB. He said the new plans to tackle the disease were ‘completely insufficient’.
“The Government has done the least it felt it could get away with and it is window dressing, nothing more.
“What is going on in Cardiff is entirely political. We have a Labour-led Government which has huge antipathy towards farming and is ideologically opposed to killing badgers.
“Farmers are reasonable people. We are prepared to accept increased biosecurity, within reason, providing the Government deals with the problem in wildlife.
“It is even worse when you see England doing everything it can to get a grip on the disease.
“The onus is on the farmer to do everything in Wales. It is completely one-sided”, he added.
Mr Wilkinson also raised concerns about the cost and inconvenience of new cattle controls, saying testing during summer when cows are out to grass would be impractical and costly.
After Ms Griffiths’ statement, assembly members said the TB situation in Wales could be used by other countries as an excuse not to buy Welsh beef, a view backed up by Mr Wilkinson.
He said: “I am concerned about the impact on trade. We already see people asking whether buying livestock in Wales is worth the risk and this could become a bigger problem in future.”
Ms Griffiths told the assembly ‘vaccination still has a role to play’ in TB eradication in Wales, but it would be premature to think about including it in the strategy given the World Health Organisation’s request to prioritise human use of the vaccine in the midst of a global shortage.
As part of the policy refresh, the Welsh Government is also consulting on:
In England, the Countryside Alliance has lodged a formal complaint with the BBC following its decision to give a badger cull saboteur air time twice in one week.
Jay Tiernan, who owes the NFU £120,000 in legal costs for his role in disrupting a cull, featured in a short documentary on Inside Out South West and Radio 4 Farming Today.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: “The BBC travelling around with Jay Tiernan talking about his illegal activity is the equivalent of them driving around with a burglar talking about houses he plans to burgle.”