A new highly sensitive and specific blood test for bovine TB, Actiphage, has been granted permission for trial on a dairy farm on the west coast of Wales.
Ceredigion-based dairy farmer Chris Mossman, who has seen his herd size almost halve in the last three years due to bovine TB, has begun trialling Actiphage testing after losing more than 300 animals.
The Actiphage test, which has been created by Suffolk-based start-up PBD Biotech, is highly sensitive and can allow detection of bovine TB within hours from a blood or milk sample.
Mr Mossman said the Welsh Government’s disease eradication policy for herds considered high risk, introduced in 2017, had led to the ‘unnecessary slaughter of thousands of cattle.’
He said: “These measures have had a catastrophic impact on my business and my life. We have lost 320 animals since January 2016 and seen our milking herd reduce from 420 to 240-head.
“We are a closed, spring block grazing herd and had done everything we felt we could in terms of biosecurity.
“I pay for my own wildlife surveys, we have badger proofed all buildings, cleaned, disinfected and drained our water troughs, fenced sets, alongside a host of other measures.
“The situation was not getting any better, we were still losing between 25 and 35 animals every 60 days.”
Encouraged by the outcomes of the publicised eradication plan on Devon dairy farm, Gatcombe, Mr Mossman decided to trial Actiphage testing with the support of his vet, Robert Price-Jones, to see if it could have any impact on his own herd.
Mr Mossman added: “We have approached this with the mind-set that it could be another tool in the box to help us clear-up this massive problem we have, and shed some light on how bTB is circulating within the herd.”
The trial is self-funded, although PBD Biotech is offering reduced cost testing.
Both the UK and Welsh Government protocols require a farmer and their vet to request APHA permission for exceptional use of Actiphage, and the other non-validated tests, and is subject to certain criteria.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We consider our protocol for using non-validated tests for bovine TB in Wales as an opportunity for test developers to be able to gather increased data on field test application in herds suffering from active TB breakdowns.
“The protocol also helps with test validation according to standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). At the same time, it still enables APHA to continue managing the breakdown in the normal way.
“The protocol involves the farmer and their private veterinary surgeon agreeing to a set of conditions in relation to conducting these tests, including how animals positive to a non-validated test are subsequently managed. The agreement is subject to Welsh Government approval.”