Evidence and not politics should be the focus of future bovine TB control in Wales, after being told by Lesley Griffiths, Minister of Rural Affairs that the current compensation bill in Wales was ‘unsustainable’ last week.

It’s 18 months since the launch of the ‘Refreshed Approach’ to bovine TB and it’s very frustrating that the Welsh disease eradication policy continues to remain almost entirely focused on cattle controls.

Many Welsh cattle keepers are at breaking point under a testing regime which is unworkable, unsustainable and which continues to remove huge numbers of valuable cattle from farms.

Some in-roads have been made, the five per cent reduction in New Herd Incidents reported by the Minister must be viewed in light of the significant 12 per cent increase in the number of cattle slaughtered in 2018.

But the sheer volume of TB testing undertaken in Wales only continues to decimate farm businesses and the FUW believes the repeated and predictable assertion by Welsh Government that such numbers reflect increased surveillance is no longer acceptable.

Despite the evidence, the Minister’s update cites that the Regional Approach is working. Welsh Government’s own target for TB freedom in Wales has been set for 2041. However, the first regional 2023 target includes a 50 per cent reduction in incidence in the High TB Area (West and East) and the Intermediate Area (Mid and North).

There are just four years left to achieve this, but some of the data on this disease seems to be going in the wrong direction. Without a significant policy shift it is difficult to see how any of these targets will be met.

We are particularly frustrated by the reference to an ‘unsustainable’ compensation budget. The compensation paid out to cattle keepers is a direct reflection of the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered due to this disease and the high compensation budget therefore represents a continuing lack of progress.

In many instances, infection with bovine TB is due to circumstances out with the control of the farmer, and we would point out that, at present, farmers are compensated only for the direct market value of the animal slaughtered. No compensation is offered for the additional costs incurred such as lost revenue, loss of milk production, loss of breeding lines, delays to re-stocking and movement restrictions.

These losses suffered by a producer whose animals are compulsorily purchased can be significant and we believe strongly that cattle keepers already share the financial burden of bovine TB.

Any proposals for a new compensation regime in Wales must take these factors into account to properly understand the financial and emotional consequences of changes to this budget.

Reducing the disease in both cattle and wildlife would reduce the compensation budget but the politics surrounding this disease have allowed a significant source of infection to remain almost entirely unchecked. Without such measures, the industry remains vulnerable to ever-increasing levels of disease and a change in policy direction is well overdue.

The FUW remains committed to working with Welsh Government on tackling bovine TB but is resolute in believing that real partnership working cannot be achieved without an equitable focus on both cattle and wildlife sources of infection.