Wales has ‘mountain to climb’ to eradicate bovine TB

Wales has seen an 11% fall in new bovine TB herd breakdowns and a 16% reduction in the numbers of cattle slaughtered, according to the latest government data.

Speaking at the NFU Cymru virtual conference on Thursday (5 November), the union’s president, John Davies, welcomed the downward trajectory in the latest set of Welsh government statistics covering the period from April to June 2020.

These figures show that new herd TB incidents in Wales were down 11% in the year to July 2020.

See also: Counting the cost of bovine TB in Wales

“Credit should go to vets, technicians and our farmers in the work that is taking place to tackle this disease,” said Mr Davies.

A total of 95% of herds were officially TB free in the second quarter of 2020 compared with 94.4% in this period in 2019.

However, Mr Davies said Wales had a “mountain to climb” to eradicate the disease and said the reductions in breakdowns fell far short of the 40% fall in new herd breakdowns in badger cull areas of England.

“The 10,674 cattle slaughtered and 1,291 herds under restriction at some point in the year to July 2020 shows the scale of the mountain we still must climb to eradicate this disease from our country,” he said.

Addressing Wales’ farm minister Lesley Griffiths directly, he urged her to reconsider Cardiff’s stance on badger culling.

“I know in the past that you have ruled out the approach that is adopted in England, but I hope that on the basis of the evidence now published by Defra that you will reconsider,” he said.

‘Biased’ findings

Earlier this year a former government vet accused the Welsh government of failing to take measures to effectively tackle bovine TB.

John Gallagher, a former head of the Veterinary Investigation Service in Devon and Cornwall, said surveillance methods used in Wales overestimated the extent of the disease in cattle while at the same time were “biased” against finding infection in the local badger population.

A false picture was therefore being created about which of the two species – cattle or badgers – was the most important source of infection, he said.