Opinion: Welsh government ‘dreadfully wrong’ in its approach to bovine TB

It speaks volumes when the very first slide shown at a Welsh government presentation to farmers about the current bovine TB situation is an advert for a farming mental health charity.

This was the case here in north-east Wales at an event I attended earlier this year.

The packed room was then informed over the next hour-and-a-half that the 75% increase in new incidents that we’ve seen over the past 12 months in the area now known as ‘the ITBAN’ (Intermediate TB Area North), was entirely the fault of farmers for moving cattle irresponsibly from high-risk areas.

See also: 5 ways to improve TB control in the UK

We were also told, in no uncertain terms, that there would be no badger cull under the present Labour Welsh government, and debating that decision was pointless.

Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere in the room got heated.

Many of the farmers present have lived with bovine TB in their herds for well over a decade, under enormous amounts of emotional stress and financial disruption, and have put into place all possible precautions and barriers available to them against this disease, but are still suffering from repeated TB breakdowns.

I am sick and tired of government officials lecturing overworked and under-resourced livestock farmers about farming practices being responsible for the continued increase in bovine TB.

While cattle movements, of course, need to be restricted as much as possible, the continued refusal to implement a badger cull and target the reservoir of infection as part of the solution makes a mockery of the whole situation.

While countries that have previously had TB issues – such as New Zealand – made tough decisions and eradicated the disease, our own continues to prevaricate while the situation gets endlessly worse.

In the year to April 2019, a staggering 12,000 cattle were slaughtered in Wales – a 19% rise on the previous 12 months, and at a cost to the taxpayer in compensation to farmers of £14.5 million.

This is endemic long-term failure on the part of Welsh government.

We have been repeatedly told as an industry that a badger cull would be ineffective. An expensive waste of time. You farmers simply don’t understand the problem, they said.

Well, the cull is working in England. The results are there for all to see, and it’s being rolled out to further areas later this year.

Well done to Defra for acting decisively, even if it’s taken far too long to come about.

I would urge policy-makers in Wales to sit down with farmers who are affected and talk to them about the needless layers of bureaucracy they face as a result of a TB breakdown; the difficulty they encounter in getting the right answers about what they need to do next; and the shock and anguish of seeing their cattle shot dead on farm in front of them.

I like environment minister Leslie Griffiths enormously, and I firmly believe she has the best interests of farmers in Wales at heart, but on this issue, she and her party are getting it dreadfully wrong.

While a pledge of £47,000 this summer to support the excellent DPJ Foundation is to be hugely applauded, I would guess that a large number of mental health problems in the farming community here come at least in part from the pressure of coping with bovine TB.

Welsh farmers are doing everything they can, it’s time for government to do the same.

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