AS TB pushes northwards and fears grow about the possibility of Scotland losing its TB-free status, the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ (FUW) has warned a failure to get to grips with the disease could leave UK farmers unable to trade with the EU post-Brexit.
Britain’s ‘third country’ status in relation to the EU after Brexit will leave British agricultural products facing veterinary clearances before they can access the European marketplace, which could become a significant problem for the UK as it has the highest prevalence of bovine TB in the EU.
The rules, which come into force in April 2021, have been compared to the 1996 ‘European Beef Ban’, which was imposed as a result of fears over BSE.
Senior policy officer at the FUW, Dr Hazel Wright, said: “While some in-roads have been made, current levels of bovine TB could represent a significant threat to successful trade negotiations, as in many regions – and across England and Wales as a whole – they exceed the level at which regions can be legally declared ‘TB-free’.
“The FUW has called for a formal risk assessment of the implications of current levels of bovine TB across the whole of the UK to be undertaken, irrespective of devolved animal health responsibilities.”
Dr Wright also welcomed the prospect of a national ‘free from bovine TB’ target date.
The Welsh Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee recommended such a date be set in a recent report, as well as interim targets for TB eradication in each of the three risk areas in Wales.
“Having a target date for Wales to be officially TB-free provides clarity on the process and focuses the eradication programme”, Dr Wright said.
“More importantly, it provides accountability and allows the industry to evaluate whether the strategy is working in a manner which will confirm the UK is TB-free within a timescale which minimises risks to trade.”
NFUS president Andrew McCornick also raised concerns about bovine TB’s impact on future trading relationships in a blog this week.
“We need to protect our TB-free status as it is a hard-won achievement by our industry”, he wrote.
“There can only be value in this with Brexit, its trade implications and the ability to provide TB-free stock.”
While agreeing badgers should be culled where necessary, Mr McCornick pointed out cattle movements posed the greatest risk to Scotland’s status.
He said: “Of Scotland’s 11 new TB incidents identified last year, eight were directly attributed to cattle movements. In other words, they were avoidable.
“Analysis of Scottish breakdowns demonstrate we do not have a significant reservoir of disease in our wildlife population. But this could change, and the sad fact is, if it does, it would most likely be because of imported cattle and not wildlife.”
Check out our top ten tips for keeping your cattle safe from TB here.