Cattle farmers in Wales are facing a new raft of bovine TB controls as the Welsh government attempts to manage an increase in herd breakdowns, and some businesses could also see a reduction in the level of compensation paid for animals removed from their farms.
Currently, farmers with herds that test clear after the second of two short interval tests can use that second reading as a movement test.
But under proposals being set out in a government consultation, the farm will now need another clear test 60 days later before it can move cattle.
This new measure is in response to a rising number of breakdowns over a 12-month period – in June 2020, there were 614 new incidents, but a year later that number stood at 633.
That 3% rise is largely concentrated in north Wales, where TB incidence had been low and where eight out of 10 breakdowns are now linked to the movement of infected cattle.
The use of the skin test for pre-movement is also under review because there is concern that it is not sensitive enough and could be allowing infected cattle to be moved around the country.
The government is also seeking to ban the feeding of raw milk to livestock on farms under restrictions to prevent infection spreading from dairy cows to youngstock – currently this practice is only advisory.
Compensation paid to farmers for cattle removed from the farm could also be cut because the use of a table valuation system is being proposed.
This system was introduced in England 10 years ago, but the industry in Wales has until now been successful in resisting a switch from the current system of individual on-farm valuation based on 100% of market value.
Amid tightening budgets, the government believes it is time to explore this again, pointing to a consistent overspend on the TB eradication budget in Wales over many years.
The new payment system could be linked to health accreditation schemes and biosecurity measures.
But while the government is seeking to impose new controls on cattle, there is nothing in the consultation around badger culling, a measure first minister Mark Drakeford ruled out in June 2021 following the re-election of the Labour-led administration.
There will also be no return to a fully funded badger vaccination programme either, even though parts of west Wales, where this measure was undertaken for four years, continues to experience a significant reduction in TB numbers.
What the government is offering farmers is a 50% grant for their own vaccination programmes, but they would need to apply for this and vaccination is known to be time consuming and expensive.
Overall, since 2009 there has been a 48% decrease in TB breakdowns in Wales and in 2020 there were 5.7 new breakdowns for every 100 officially TB-free (OTF) tests – the lowest annual incidence in 16 years.
The consultation will run for 12 weeks.