A west Wales dairy farmer is pioneering a new blood test for bovine TB, in the hope of ridding his farm of the devastating disease that has seen over half its herd culled (312 cows).

New Government guidelines now permit use of the rapid test across Wales and England, offering the potential to revolutionise bovine TB control.

The test developers are offering farmers reduced-price testing in the hope of speeding up evidence gathering for international validation.

A record 12,799 cattle have been slaughtered in Wales alone in the past 12 months because of bovine TB; a 28 per cent increase year on year, with one region recording a 190 per cent increase.

Mossman Farming, in Llangrannog, is located in an area of chronic breakdown and is the first to gain permission to trial PBD Biotech’s rapid Actiphage blood test for Mycobacterium bovis the pathogen that causes this devastating disease.

Following the launch of new guidelines by the Welsh Government, clarifying the use of non-validated testing, test developer PBD Biotech is encouraging more farmers to participate in further trials.

Chris Mossman runs a spring-calving milking herd with a total stock of 529, to date 312 dairy cows have been slaughtered. He agreed to trial Actiphage after hearing about the Gatcombe pilot.

Chris explained: “TB is a massive problem in Ceredigion, so when I heard about Actiphage’s use at Gatacombe, helping to clear that dairy herd for the first time in six years, I wanted to try and replicate those findings here.

"Me – and many other farmers – are losing large numbers of animals. I’m trying to do all I can to get rid of this disease from my herd.”

In spring 2019, the office of the chief veterinary officer for Wales granted permission for vet Robert Price-Jones to use Actiphage to screen high-risk cattle for M. bovis.

Robert, who has been leading the trial, commented: “Actiphage is able to identify the presence of relatively low numbers of M. bovis in the bloodstream of infected cattle.

"It is not dependent upon an immune system response to the pathogen – in contrast to current validated tests – and so has greater sensitivity than such as the official tuberculin SICCT skin test.

“The benefit of using Actiphage is that it offers the potential for eradicating the disease from the farm; as early identification of animals at risk of bovine TB enables heightened disease management and control.”

PBD Biotech, an early-stage agri-tech company based in Suffolk, is seeking more farms to trial Actiphage in order to gain the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) validation.

The test offers the potential to revolutionise control of bovine TB by allowing detection of the disease within hours from a blood or milk sample.

Under the terms of the Welsh Government’s protocol, cattle not condemned for slaughter can be tested with Actiphage. Those that give a positive result are identified with a ‘management’ marker, monitored and milked separately.

To prevent further contamination of the environment and to minimise risk to uninfected cattle, animals found to be ‘shedders’ are removed from the farm.

Although a decision to remove cattle based on a non-validated test will be at the farmers’ own expense, the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) has confirmed that during the trial, where a positive result is confirmed with statutory tests, the animals will be removed with compensation as normal.

So far, 100 animals from Mossman Farming have been tested with Actiphage and vet Robert Price-Jones is preparing a paper to publish the findings in early 2020.