12 April 2002

Why TB needs a radical solution

Bovine TB is the forgotten disease of UK livestock

production. While the nation focussed on

foot-and-mouth, a TB time-bomb began ticking.

Now it threatens to explode. Our three-page

report begins with a personal perspective from

Wales correspondent Robert Davies and continues

with two opposing views of badger culling

BOVINE tuberculosis is threatening economic recovery after the foot-and-mouth crisis, say farmers.

It is now almost impossible to hold a conversation with a farmer, adviser, veterinary surgeon or auctioneer without it turning to the topic of TB.

Within hot spot areas like west Wales, Monmouthshire and north Powys, everyone seems to know of a new farm where reactors have been found since the restart of tuberculin testing.

My contacts with cattle farmers confirm what Dai Davies, deputy president of NFU Cymru, said recently – "the question on everyones lips is who is next?"

A total of 70 cases were confirmed in the first two months of the year and even the most optimistic farmers fear many more will be appear as the testing backlog is cleared.

They claim that controlling TB by the often long, drawn out process of slaughtering reactors and retesting, rather than a clean whole herd cull, will make the final true cost to farmers very high indeed.

But, almost without exception, they back the campaign, and are willing to struggle to cope with the uncompensated costs of controlling TB. However, every farmer I speak to also wants something done about wildlife reservoirs of TB – and that means badgers.

They believe there is sufficient evidence from past trials to justify the testing of sample badgers from setts on infected farms.

Waiting until the Krebs culling tests end in 2005 is not an acceptable option. Some who believe that politicians and DEFRA have no stomach for a confrontation with badger groups are ready to take direct action against Britains most protected wildlife species.

Dead badger

David Morgan is not one of them, though he has already lost 76 of the pedigree Holsteins he runs on his Monmouthshire farm, and his vet confirmed that a dead badger he found on the land was riddled with the disease.

He is the most law abiding of men and a countryman to his fingertips, who would be delighted to have healthy badgers living in the two setts on his farm.

So, too, would most of the dozen neighbours who joined him for a visit by their local Welsh Assembly member. But they reported plenty of anecdotal evidence that some farmers were stocking up on shotgun cartridges, and were prepared to use them.

Badger groups are incensed by any suggestion of unlicensed culling. They even oppose the sampling of setts on land where TB is being combated. Welsh farmers are telling them to remove their rose tinted spectacles and see the economic reality of bovine tuberculosis.

Evan Thomas, who speaks for the Farmers Union of Wales on the issue, insists it is not possible to control TB by culling cows and leaving infected badgers free to roam. Most farmers in Wales agree and want an immediate review of government policy.

Before his execution in 1606, Guy Fawkes explained the Gun-powder Plot by saying "desperate diseases require desperate remedies". Welsh farmers are not anarchists, but they feel desperate about TB and demand radical measures to halt its spread.

&#8226 Continued on page 20