Positive tests add weight for Welsh badger cull trial

A bovine TB outbreak in a closed dairy herd in Powys has provided further evidence that cattle-to-cattle transmission is not the only factor in the spread of the disease.

The outbreak on Brian Jones’ County Council smallholding, has left him despondent and very angry.

Mr Jones said he had not bought-in any cattle for 33 years before the 112 Holstein Friesian cattle at Coedyparc near Caersws were tested in January.

“None of my neighbours’ herds have had TB, so I was absolutely shocked when two of the first 10 cows checked were positive,” Mr Jones told Farmers Union of Wales leaders visiting the 42ha (104-acre) unit.

“The only thing that had changed was an increase in the number of badgers in a sett that appeared three years ago in a 10ha (25-acre) wood that adjoins our farm.”

After looking at all the circumstances Mr Jones was convinced that the disease must have come from a wildlife source, and probably from the badger sett.

His anger was compounded because politicians were not prepared to test wild animals and cull those with TB.

That meant the cattle would be exposed to the disease again at spring turnout, he said.

While he had lost a heifer and a second calver that were predicted to produce 13,000 litres of milk in 2006, and he would be unable to market surplus females from his breeding programme herd until there were two clear tests, the badgers could go on infecting his and his neighbours’ cattle.

The herd would remain stigmatised for several years in the minds of potential breeding stock buyers after the all clear was given, he claimed.

Evan Thomas, who represents the FUW on all bovine TB issues, said Mr Jones’s experience was a classical example of what was happening in a growing number of closed herds.

But the Welsh Assembly was not willing to test badgers suspected of being reservoirs of the disease, or to get involved in culling trials.

“There is plenty of evidence that removing badgers does reduce the chances of herds becoming infected, but politicians choose to ignore the scientific evidence,” said Mr Thomas.

Lib Dem Welsh Assembly member Mick Bates, who farms 20 miles away from the Jones family’s smallholding, admitted that with an election a year away there was little hope that the Labour-led administration in Cardiff tackling TB in wildlife.

“The party, which does not have an overall majority, has come to the conclusion that there are more votes in listening to the badger lobby,” Mr Bates claimed.

Gareth Vaughan, FUW president, described the slaughter of 30,172 TB reactors in 2005, including 6676 in Wales, as appalling.