By Debbie James

New TB herd breakdowns in west Wales have continued to rise despite new measures to eradicate the disease in cattle.

Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire – a region classified as a high risk TB area when the Welsh Government refreshed its eradication programme 18 months ago – saw a steady increase in new incidents in 2018.

The latest figures show 354 open incidents in these counties, an increase of 13 in the final quarter of 2018.

The movement of infected cattle is blamed for one in three herd breakdowns in regions with high and intermediate levels of TB.

On some of the breakdown farms, heavily in-calf TB reactors had to be slaughtered on the holding, a situation which can cause extreme distress to the farmers involved.

A review is currently underway to consider ways in which this approach can be minimised.

The number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB controls has risen sharply.

In Wales, there was a 12 per cent increase as the government resorted to high-sensitivity testing in a bid to eradicate the disease.

In the 12 months to January 2019, 11,305 cattle were culled as a result of more widespread use of gamma-testing, the removal of inconclusive reactors (IRs) and severe interpretation of the skin test, resulting in a compensation bill in excess of £13 million.

At 1,499, the number of animals slaughtered in October 2018 was the highest for a single month since records began, while culls in November 2018 were the second highest.

Despite stringent cattle controls there has been no let-up in new herd breakdowns – in the year to January 2019 there were 766 across Wales.

But across the country’s 12,000 dairy and beef herds, figures point to a 4 per cent decrease in TB incidence overall.

While cattle controls are the tightest they have ever been, it is understood that wildlife controls – the culling of infected badgers – has only taken place in around five farms with chronic herd breakdowns.

As a result of action plans being put in place on 59 of these farms, movement restrictions were lifted on 21.

Commenting on the latest figures, cabinet secretary Lesley Griffiths said: "We are making progress on our TB eradication programme, we must now keep up the momentum and continue to work together to stamp out the disease."

She said the refreshed regional TB eradication programme had enabled different approaches to disease eradication, based on the different risks in each part of Wales.

One of the main aims of the programme was to protect the low TB area from infection.

The minister today confirmed they were succeeding in protecting the area in north west Wales, with the introduction of post-movement testing playing a key role.

The minister also confirmed:

  • A review of the current TB compensation at an appropriate time.  In 2018-19, over £14m was paid in TB compensation to farmers – which is unsustainable to the public purse. Any new regime needs to drive good farming practice whilst discouraging bad practice; and
  • Officials are currently looking at ways to reduce the instances where TB reactors need to be shot on farm and exploring ways to make the situation less distressing for those affected

The minister said:  “Our refreshed TB eradication programme which I launched in 2017 fundamentally changed the way we as a Government and the industry view and tackle the disease. 

“Today I am pleased to be able to provide an update on the programme now we have a complete 2018 dataset of TB statistics available.  We are making progress in tackling the disease but we must now keep up the momentum to stamp out the disease. 

“Our regional approach is clearly working and has enabled us to adapt the way we tackle the disease and tailor our response depending on the risk in that area.  We have been successful in protecting the low TB area and have been able to respond to a developing disease situation in the Intermediate TB area north - introducing a strengthened contiguous testing regime and providing veterinary ‘keep it out’ visits to support TB free herds.

“However, we cannot eradicate the disease alone – we all have a role to play.  I cannot over emphasise the value of collaboration when it comes to TB eradication.  By working together in partnership, with a single purpose, we will stamp out this disease.”