By Debbie James

An award-winning Carmarthenshire dairy farmer has spoken of the anguish of losing cows from her championship herd after they tested positive for bovine TB.

Cheryl Thomas, who runs the pedigree Gatrog Holstein and Jersey herd with her husband, Elwyn, at Gelligatrog Farm, near Kidwelly, directed her anger at campaigners who insist wildlife controls have no place in the Welsh Government’s bovine TB eradication programme.

“I wish I had Mr Brian May's phone number as I would invite him to our farm tomorrow morning to watch Dream and some of her herd mates walk up the tailgate of a lorry drive out of the farm and never return,’’ she posted on Facebook.

Mrs Thomas said she accepted that if cows had TB they should be slaughtered but that the same policy should apply to badgers.

“If you are a true animal lover Mr May, and others of the same belief, surely it's so so cruel to kill healthy cows,’’ she wrote.

“TB is outside the house but when you work with animals day in day out, some great individuals, this just sucks.’’

In the year to April 2019, 12,000 cattle were slaughtered in Wales due to bovine TB – a 19% rise on the previous 12 months.

The TB breakdown at Gelligatrog came just a fortnight before the Royal Welsh Show where fears were raised that Welsh exports of red meat and dairy products were at risk post-Brexit because bovine TB in Wales’ national cattle herd is at a level unacceptable to future trading partners.

Wales’ agriculture minister Lesley Griffiths last month ruled out a large-scale cull of badgers as part of her TB strategy, but has been warned by farmers’ leaders that radical steps were needed or future trade is at risk.

Dr Hazel Wright, policy officer at the Farmers’ Union of Wales, said that as a country trading with the EU post-Brexit, the level of TB in the Welsh herd would need to be 0.1% for six consecutive years.

In Wales, even areas officially classified as having a low level of TB have an incidence of 5 per cent, she pointed out.

According to the union’s managing director, Alan Davies, that disease level has the potential to put all red meat and dairy trade with Europe at risk after Brexit.

“In a no-deal situation negotiations are likely to be more hard-nosed,’’ he said.

New Zealand had faced a similar challenge and had to “fix TB’’ – in its case with a mass cull of possums – before it could form trading alliances with European countries, he added.

But Wales’ chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop said the FUW’s claims about future trade were unfounded.

She insisted that meat from farms in Wales with TB is currently not exported and that would continue to be the case after Brexit.

Both the FUW and NFU Cymru say the reservoir of infection must be addressed in wildlife before there can be any meaningful progress on TB eradication.

NFU Cymru suggests the eventual trigger could be the cost of the disease to the public purse as the compensation paid for cattle slaughtered continues to rise.

Earlier this year the minister had conceded that current TB compensation bills were “unsustainable”.

NFU Cymru president John Davies said that the latest figures for cattle culls could not be manipulated to suggest that Welsh Government TB eradication policies were effective.

“Contrast this to the High Risk areas in England where disease is being addressed in both the cattle and wildlife populations and we see the vast majority of these counties with falling numbers of cattle slaughtered and fewer herds under restriction,’’ he said.

“We are disappointed that only last week in Plenary the minister once again ruled out a badger cull as part of a TB strategy for Wales.’’