Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd
On 16 November 2021, I set out my intention to refresh the Wales TB Eradication Programme. We fully refreshed our strategy in 2017 with the publication of the first TB Eradication Delivery Plan, setting out targets for TB eradication and implementation of a regionalised approach. Our Programme is based on the four key principles of infectious disease control: Keep it Out, Find it Fast, Stop it Spreading and Stamp it Out.
There is a different picture of TB in Wales now and much improvement has been made since the Delivery Plan commitments, with progress against the 2017 Delivery Plan published on our TB webpages.
A key aspect of the Delivery Plan was to formalise arrangements for tackling longer term breakdowns. We committed to taking an assertive approach through the provision of Action Plans containing a suite of measures aimed at clearing up infection promptly and to lift movement restrictions on some of our longest standing TB breakdowns.
Over the past 5 years, 253 finalised Action Plans have helped support our farmers, with 127 of these breakdowns cleared.
The latest published bovine TB statistics for Wales to March 2022 show the progress made:
- New TB incidents have decreased from 1,185 in 2009 to 634 in the 12 months to March 2022, a 46.5% reduction.
- Animals slaughtered for TB control has decreased from 11,655 in 2009 to 10,117 in the 12 months to March 2022, a 13.2% reduction.
- On 31 March 2022, there were 988 herds under restrictions, compared to the peak of 2,268 herds under restriction on 31 March 2009, representing a 56.4% decrease.
- Herd prevalence has decreased from the peak in April 2009 at 7.8% to 5.4% in March 2022, a 30.9% decrease.
It is also encouraging to see long-term decreases in key measures in both the High TB Areas. Further information is published on our interactive TB dashboard.
Alongside my November 2021 Statement, I launched a consultation to help inform a refresh of the TB Eradication Programme. 246 responses were received. The summary of responses is available on our website. I am grateful to all those who responded and all comments are being taken into account when developing our refreshed approach.
Views received on the proposals demonstrate the strength of feeling about issues such as payment for TB affected cattle, TB testing and informed purchasing, all key elements of the Programme. I have read and understood the comments raised and am considering all options, alongside other information, such as costs, in deciding next steps.
Since my Statement, the NFU Cymru TB Focus Group has published a report on bovine TB, and, more recently, the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRA) has published its report on Refreshing Wales TB Eradication Programme to which I have responded. I welcome both reports and I would like to thank the Committee and the Focus Group for taking time to consider bovine TB and provide recommendations, which will assist with the refreshed Programme.
In November I announced the establishment of an independent Farmer Engagement Task and Finish Group to consider the best ways of communicating with cattle keepers about TB, to help them to protect their herds from disease and also throughout a TB breakdown. I am currently considering their report’s findings and recommendations, which have synergies with those in both the Committee’s report and the TB Focus Group report.
The recommendations of the Task and Finish Group are available on the Welsh
Government’s website. I would like to express my thanks to the Chair and members of the Group for their time and expertise which will be of value as we consider our refreshed Programme.
A recurring theme in the Task and Finish Group report highlights the importance of the role of vets in the TB Eradication Programme and, in particular, vets’ relationships with farmers in communicating accurate and trusted information. The Group commented on the wider interface between farmers, vets, APHA and the Welsh Government, on aspects such as the Disease Report Form and Action Plan process, Cymorth TB, the sharing of data and the autonomy of vets in breakdown management. In light of the current shortages in veterinary capacity, there is scope to continue this discussion to further develop the proposals so we can optimise the input of vets. There will be a workshop, led by the independent Chair of the Task and Finish Group, next week at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show to further explore the role of vets in the Programme.
Regarding pressures on veterinary capacity, in November I commissioned research to review options to supplement the delivery of TB testing through greater use of appropriately trained para-professionals. The report, which will shortly be available on our website, is supportive of exploring the greater use of lay TB testers. We will be engaging with Veterinary Delivery Partners and APHA over the summer to establish a pilot and trial this approach.
I also announced the phasing out of the badger trap and test work in long-term TB breakdown herds in order to focus our resources on badger vaccination. In line with our Programme for Government commitment to forbid the culling of badgers, I announced the expansion of the Badger Vaccination Grant (BVG) Scheme and the provision of additional funding. I am pleased to report an overwhelming level of interest in this scheme and all BVG applications received have been approved, covering 42 farms across a total area of just over 46km2 across Wales. This important work is taking place alongside our existing badger vaccination project on Gower.
We recognise the difficulties keepers face in moving young cattle out of herds whilst under TB restrictions and have policies in place to allow movements into TB Approved Finishing Units (AFUs). We introduced changes in 2021, to encourage new AFUs to be established and increase the number of outlets available. We continue to engage regularly with industry representatives, who are advising on further changes to the arrangements.
Whilst we consider these requests for change, ensuring they do not increase the risk of disease transmission, we have agreed to allow animals to move between approved rearing and finishing units without the requirement for a pre-movement test and to extend the window from 30 days to 60 days for eligible cattle which have had a clear test to move into an Isolation Unit.
We recognise the importance of implementing high standards of biosecurity on farms in the face of disease threats and the Sustainable Farming Scheme is developing its approach to biosecurity requirements. In the meantime, I urge keepers to seek veterinary advice about practical actions they can take to protect their herd from TB, including the responsible sourcing of cattle and steps they can take to reduce the risk of disease spread. Cymorth TB veterinary visits continue to be made available by the Welsh Government at no cost to farmers and this is prime opportunity for keepers to ask their own private vet for advice on how to protect their herd. I also encourage keepers to consider participating in an animal health accreditation scheme, such as TB CHeCS.
Despite real progress in driving down levels of TB since the inception of our programme, some areas have required a targeted approach. We have been considering how to tackle deep-seated levels of infection in parts of Pembrokeshire, where TB incidence and prevalence have worsened against the overall improving backdrop. In line with responses to our consultation and the TB Focus Group report, we will explore new governance arrangements for TB eradication at a local level, empowering vets and farmers to make informed decisions and show leadership in disease control. Early discussions are underway to develop a special pilot project for Pembrokeshire, with the first formal meeting taking place at the Pembrokeshire County Show in August.
Below is an update on the areas included in the consultation:
Governance arrangements and TB Testing
There were mixed views on Governance arrangements of the TB Eradication Programme. It is, therefore, my intention to begin a Public Appointments process to recruit members to a new TB Eradication Programme Board and also consider how to improve communication with industry. I would encourage those who feel they have suitable expertise and experience to apply.
The consultation attracted overwhelming support for the establishment of a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), with many views on organisations and experts who could sit on such a group. I have asked Professor Glyn Hewinson, Sêr Cymru Chair of the TB Centre of Excellence in Aberystwyth to set up such a Group. He will consider the expertise required to advise on the technical aspects of the Programme, ensuring our approach is driven by the latest evidence.
I have asked Professor Hewinson to ensure the TAG prioritises consideration of our TB testing regime, as recommended by the TB Focus Group. Changing our approach to testing is likely to result in knock-on implications, and we need to fully understand the consequences of any prospective change.
Other areas I initially envisage the TAG considering include the assessment of certain farming practices, such as slurry spreading, on TB transmission and persistence, and options for the deployment of a cattle vaccine, once licensed.
The TB Payments questions within the consultation attracted significant interest from respondents. Three proposals were presented: table valuations, table valuations plus a top up for being a member of an approved animal health accreditation scheme and an industry- led levy.
Whilst views varied, the proposal for an industry led independent group with a levy attracted most support, followed by table valuation with an uplift for membership of an accreditation scheme. There was less support for the proposal for a straight table valuation, which many felt would be disadvantageous to the highest quality livestock.
This is a complex area and we would therefore like to explore, through further engagement with industry, and farmers, the feasibility of both proposal for a levy and table valuations with uplift, to ascertain whether this could offer the cost savings we need to make in respect of TB payments, whilst balancing the need to reward good farming practices and the implementation of disease prevention and control practices.
I am encouraged by respondents’ support for displaying TB free herds on ibTB and mandating provision and display of information at the point of sale. The Task and Finish Group were supportive of action in respect of informed purchasing whilst the ETRA Committee recognised the need for appropriate data systems to make the scheme work.
These reports have demonstrated the need to further explore Informed Purchasing and its potential consequences, recognising the need for a joined-up approach with Defra as far as possible given cross-border trade.
Whilst consideration is ongoing, recent epidemiological evidence from the hotspot areas of North Wales demonstrates the key role local cattle movements can play in the spread of bovine TB. I continue to appeal to keepers to do as much research as possible prior to purchasing cattle, fully assessing the potential TB risk of bringing animals into their herds.
In conclusion, we have a great deal of work to do and will continue to work with stakeholders to further develop and refine our approach. Initial focus will be on progressing the Pembrokeshire Pilot, setting up the TAG and a Programme Board to consider stakeholder involvement and wider communication.
I will publish a refreshed Delivery Plan later this year, setting out next steps for the Programme.
I am confident, working in partnership, we can meet our common goal of achieving a TB- free Wales.