With David Waters, FUW’S Carmarthenshire County Executive Officer
IN an attempt to eradicate bovine TB in the past two decades, the Welsh Government has quadrupled the number of cattle herds tested annually for the disease, introduced pre and post-cattle movement TB testing and split Wales into seven zones – each with different and often complex rules and policies – as well as introducing innumerable other policies. Put simply, we have the tightest cattle TB rules in the world.
Despite this, the number of cattle slaughtered due to TB has risen almost eight-fold since the year 2000, and so far this century more than 160,000 Welsh cattle have been slaughtered due to the disease.
The latest figures show that the chances of a badger carrying TB is 17 times higher than the chances of a cow carrying the disease, yet the number of badgers culled due to TB this century is close to being in single figures.
Welsh farmers annually spend millions of pounds trying to tackle the disease and comply with the rules, causing huge financial and mental pressures that can sadly push some over the edge.
So it was heartbreaking and infuriating in equal measures to hear First Minister Mark
Drakeford ruling out any form of a badger cull to eradicate bovine TB and wrongly blaming farmers for the problem.
The Welsh Government has taken the positive step of employing world-leading scientists including Prof Glyn Hewinson to carry out research into cattle vaccinations, and as outlined in the FUW’S Welsh Senedd Election Manifesto, such moves are welcome.
However, this cannot be considered to be a silver bullet as it ignores the massive disease reservoir in a badger population that is now higher than it ever was in the last century, and this is why massive increases in Welsh cattle testing, culling and rules have not achieved anything like the impact that badger culling has had in parts of England in a fraction of the time.
While improvements have been made in Wales since 2009 in regard to new herd incidents, the latest statistics show that 10,258 Welsh cattle were slaughtered in the year to April 2021 in Wales due to TB, compared with 1,348 in the year 2000.
In 2012, Welsh Government replaced plans to cull badgers in north Pembrokeshire with a fiveyear badger vaccination programme which has led to no statistically significant fall in cattle herd incidents. The decision in 2012 was branded by the FUW as a betrayal of Welsh farmers, particularly as the Welsh Government’s own financial assessment concluded that culling would result in a net financial benefit, while vaccination would lead to a net loss of £3.5 million. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that badger vaccinations will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle, and a scientific paper highlighting the apparent transmission to a domestic cat of a strain of TB derived from a badger vaccine is a cause for major concern.
The Welsh Government can only get to grips with the disease by tackling it in all species, and this means taking badgers off the pedestal some have put them on and culling them where they have been shown to carry the disease.
As demonstrated in England, this will not only drastically reduce disease levels in cattle and other animals, but will also increase numbers of the wildlife that badgers prey upon – including hedgehogs.
Ignoring the scientific evidence and blaming farmers in order to cover up decades of flawed policies that have led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of cattle and widespread ecological damage does not help.