Plan to Eradicate Bovine TB Announced

WALES - A comprehensive plan of action to eradicate the infectious disease bovine TB in Wales was announced by the Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones this week.
calendar icon 9 April 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

Elin Jones

The plan includes measures to test all cattle herds across Wales in order to measure the extent of the infection, to remove all sources of the infection on farms and to review the compensation system.

Bovine TB is having a devastating impact on the health and welfare of the national cattle herd in Wales.

It is a disease that can be transmitted to humans and to and from other mammals. The incidence of TB has increased dramatically over the past decade with 7,905 cattle slaughtered in Wales because of the disease in 2007 compared with less than 700 in 1997. The cost of compensation in Wales has risen from £1.8 million in 2000/01 financial year to £15.2 million in 2007/08. On present trends by 2012 it could exceed £30 million.

The announcement meets the One Wales commitment to pursue vigorously a programme of TB eradication in Wales, which is backed by £27 million of funding over three years. Elin Jones said: "This acceleration in incidence is unsustainable. 'Managing' the disease via the measures that are currently being applied would be irresponsible and unsustainable, given the forecast future spread of bovine TB.

"There is no single solution to eradicating bovine TB. Our approach will be comprehensive, which is what the TB inquiry by the Assembly's Rural Development Sub-Committee recommended.

"The implementation of the eradication programme cannot be the responsibility of the government alone – the role of the farming industry and the veterinary profession will be crucial. Only through working in partnership over a sustained period will we have an impact on reducing the incidence of the disease."

The main measures are:

  • Cattle Surveillance and Control:

    "A key step for the first year will be to establish an additional one-off test of all cattle herds across Wales in order to identify the extent of the infection and to remove diseased animals. This will provide crucial evidence for future decisions on setting appropriate testing regimes and changes to movement controls. It means testing approximately an additional 4,657 or 35 per cent of herds in Wales. I will also review existing policies in order to improve bovine TB surveillance and controls. This will include reducing the time it takes to remove reactors from farms," Mr Jones said.

  • Change compensation regime:

    "It is not action by government alone which will eradicate bovine TB. I want to reform the compensation regime to encourage herd owners to follow best practice. By the end of 2008 plans will be published to amend the current system to ensure compensation arrangements encourage herd owners to comply with legal and best practice requirements. I will also take action to further address the concerns about the abuse of the TB compensation system as highlighted by the report of the National Audit Office in 2003," he added.

  • Identify and Remove all on-farm sources of infection:

    "Previous studies have already concluded that badgers are a wildlife reservoir of bovine TB in the UK and they are involved in the transmission of infection to cattle, and vice versa. The results of the Wales Badger Found Dead Survey were consistent with this, because they showed that levels of infection in badgers were highest in Gwent, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and other areas of high incidence of TB in cattle," he concluded.
"We believe that the most effective measure to address both sources of infection and cross-infection, subject to strict regulation and meeting a number of requirements, would be a targeted cull of badgers in TB high incidence areas. To take this forward we will prioritise the establishment of an intensive action pilot in an area which has been identified as a TB hotspot.. No final decision has yet been made about a location capable of satisfying these criteria but I anticipate it would be in a defined high incidence area for the disease and subject to strict conditions. Additional areas would not be considered until the implementation and robust review and a proper evaluation of the cull and other measures in the intensive action pilot area has been undertaken.

"I will now, in consultation with the TB Eradication Programme Board, Technical Advisory Group and the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy Steering Group, consider how to take this forward. I will ensure that those welfare and wildlife groups, which are already part of the Strategy Steering Group, will be fully involved in the discussions.

"This is a difficult decision to take and it has not been taken lightly. I am very aware of the strong views on this issue. I have also given due consideration to the divergence of scientific and political opinion on these complex animal health and welfare issues for badgers and cattle.

"That is why I have concluded, that subject to ecological reviews, ethical considerations, epidemiological assessments, practical implementation and meeting the relevant legal requirements, these further steps should be taken with a view to eradicating bovine TB in both cattle and wildlife.

"I want to make it absolutely clear that the badger remains a protected species in Wales and the conditions of the Badger Act are firmly in force. Illegal action will not be tolerated.

"“On implementation of a full eradication programme in the intensive action pilot area, I can also assure you that measures such as surveillance, reactor removal, increased biosecurity, pre-movement testing and movement controls will be strengthened to protect against possible re-infection. At the request of the Environment Minister there will also be a feasibility study carried out on the reintroduction of healthy badgers to the area at the appropriate time."

Other measures announced include the development and promotion of improved husbandry and biosecurity practices to make sure cattle owners know what to do to reduce the risk of the introduction of the disease onto their farms, or to manage existing disease. This will include from 2009 the publication of infected farms and the compensation paid subject to legal consideration.

The Welsh Assembly Government will also actively support the development and trial of bovine TB vaccines for cattle and badgers in Wales in conjunction with the GB vaccination programme.

Mr Jones said: "What I want to see in Wales is healthy cattle and healthy wildlife. This programme is comprehensive, practical and proportionate - it will tackle this disease head on. What is at stake here is the health of our national herd and our wildlife population, and this government is outlining the action that needs to be taken to achieve a situation where both can exist together in a disease-free environment."

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed the plans.

"The suffering that this disease causes for all concerned - particularly badgers - means that this movement towards a holistic approach is long overdue and should be welcomed," said FUW vice president Brian Walters, a Carmarthen organic dairy farmer, who recently lost 14 cattle to bTB.

"Despite the misleading reports surrounding previous badger culling trials, the approach has been shown to massively reduce incidences of bTB, even when culling methods were relatively inefficient."

He added: "The approach declared by the Minister in no way threatens the badger’s survival in Wales, and will ultimately help reduce the terrible suffering that the disease causes for these animals.

"Those who claim we are talking about eradicating badgers are attempting to mislead the general public for other reasons - badgers are now one of our most common mammals, which is part of the problem."

The British NFU has also welcomed the announcement.

NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: "The Welsh Assembly Government is to be congratulated on having the courage to tackle every aspect of the spread of bovine TB. This gives a clear signal to Defra as to the way forward for England and we would urge the closest possible co-operation between the veterinary authorities in England and Wales.

"The NFU and other industry stakeholders in England have already presented a suggested mechanism for a managed badger cull in TB hotspot areas and we would urge this to be developed alongside the Welsh pilot and implemented without delay in England."

Further Reading

- Find out more information on Bovine TB by clicking here.

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