Welsh plans for increased TB testing provoke backlash

Welsh rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths is facing a backlash from farmers after announcing additional testing requirements to tackle bovine TB.

In a statement to the Senedd on Tuesday (14 November), she also reiterated the Welsh government’s commitment to a ban on badger culling in Wales and hinted that compensation paid to farmers could be reduced in future.

See also: Bovine TB cattle slaughterings below 20,000 in England

Ms Griffiths said that, from 1 February 2024, pre-movement testing will be reintroduced in the Low TB Area of Wales, while cattle moving into the Intermediate TB Area from the High TB area of Wales, the High Risk Area of England and from Northern Ireland will need a post-movement test. 

But Dr Hazel Wright, deputy head of policy at the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW), told Farmers Weekly she believed farmers had already reached the point where testing has become “unsustainable” for their businesses.

“You could argue to test every cow in Wales every 60 days, permanently, to catch TB,” she said.

“But there’s a cost of that to government and to farmers and there’s a health and safety issue with cattle and people, so we don’t do it.

“The policy cannot just be, let’s keep testing more. Let’s look at the validity of the testing we’re already doing. Are we picking up 0.01% of disease with this test? Because if we are, let’s do something else.”

Dr Wright also criticised the Welsh government for presenting Wales-wide data, which shows new incidents have decreased by more than 18% in the 12 months to June this year, when compared to the same period five years ago, and a decrease of 5% in the number of cattle slaughtered.  

“If you have a regional approach, which is what they decided to do in 2017, then that’s how the data should be presented,” she said.

“The regional picture is variable. Progress is being made in some areas, but if you’re in Pembrokeshire and you see the minister’s statement, it’s a red rag to a bull, because you know that in your area things are not going as planned.”

One dairy farmer from Pembrokeshire, Steve Evans, who suffered a catastrophic breakdown earlier this year, said he had been left “feeling hollow” by the minister’s statement and warned the goal to eradicate TB by 2041 would be hit “by default” as more farmers quit the industry.

“We’re testing every 60 days. There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

“I can’t for the life of me understand why they say there’s no evidence to support a cull. When you look at the success of culling in England, it just blows my mind.

“It’s a really worrying time, because there’s no leadership coming from Welsh government. It’s just more of the same.”

NFU Cymru deputy president Abi Reader, meanwhile, raised concerns about the possibility of compensation being cut.

“We’ve seen the reports coming out of Defra that suggest every bovine TB breakdown costs a farm £18,000-£20,000,” she said.

“I would suggest that’s a lot higher for a lot of farms. Without the compensation, it makes you worry how these businesses are going to survive.”

But Ms Reader did point to some positive messages in the statement, such as a commitment to look again at the problems surrounding slaughter of in-calf cows and heifers on farm and the opportunity for farming unions to sit on the eradication programme board.

Senedd member slammed for ‘deplorable’ TB comments

Farmers and farming organisations have hit out at “cruel, unkind and thoughtless” comments made by member of the Senedd (MS) Joyce Watson during a debate on the minister’s TB statement.

Ms Watson urged Welsh government to consider whether farms that have persistent TB breakdowns should be encouraged to “find another business”.

NFU Cymru has already invited Ms Watson on farm multiple times over several years, and received no response.

But following her latest remarks, the union’s Bovine TB Focus Group chairman Roger Lewis wrote to issue another invitation.  

The letter said: “I was truly saddened and disappointed to hear your insensitive comments in the Senedd following the statement made by minister Lesley Griffiths in relation to the Bovine TB Eradication Programme.

“I am struggling to put into words my frustration that a member of the Senedd elected to represent Mid and West Wales could make such deplorable comments, so lacking in empathy and respect for the farming families in your constituency going through the emotional hell of dealing with an outbreak of bovine TB on their farm.”