Wales shows the way on bTB as First Minister leaves cull option behind to focus on cattle

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Welsh First Minister says cattle movements are the cause of any increase and ‘culling of badgers will not happen in Wales’


Badger Trust has commended the Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, after he set out a clear understanding and plan of attack for tackling bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a respiratory disease in cattle, which left any blame on badgers out of the equation. Highlighting the Welsh Labour Government’s commitment in its manifesto at the recent election, now confirmed in their ‘Programme for Government’, he stated on the floor of the Senedd that ‘Culling of badgers will not happen in Wales’. The Programme itself states that the Government ‘Forbid the culling of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle.’


Responding to a question from Janet Finch-Saunders, MS (Con) Aberconwy, in which – after meeting with farmers calling for action – she called for the introduction of mass culling of badgers as used in England since 2013, Drakeford said the reason for the increase was actions of farmers themselves. He further stated that the problem was caused by ‘the importation of TB by farmers buying infected cattle, and bringing them into the area. That is the single greatest reason why low incidence areas have moved up a very sad hierarchy.’


‘Culling of badgers will not happen in Wales. Just be clear about that, it was in the Labour Party Manifesto, it was endorsed by the electorate, it [culling] will not happen. And if we want a serious debate it is better for farmers to recognise that, and again to talk with us about things that we can do rather than complaining about things that are not going to happen.’

Dawn Varley, Acting CEO of Badger Trust, commented: ‘What we see here is a senior politician talking the most the sense on bTB control than we’ve seen for a long time. bTB is a cattle disease, passed between cattle by cattle, brought to herds by the importation of infected cattle, and brought to different parts of the country by the movement of cattle – as such the starting point to address it is cattle. That can be through strict biosecurity measures on farms, thorough restrictions on the movement of cattle, robust and regular testing or, as the First Minister says, through cattle vaccination. Serious progress has been needed on the latter for several years, and we urge him to speed up research in this area.’


She continued: ‘But whilst we commend the First Minister for this clarity of understanding and focus, we still have serious concerns about the use of lethal control methods on badgers which are currently still used in Wales. The use of ‘Test, Vaccinate and Remove’ (TVR) means badgers are still being looked at, intervened on, and often killed as part of a failed and outdated approach to managing bTB in cattle – and despite testing negative for the disease at post-mortem. We have been raising concerns on this for some time, and continue to seek a meeting with Mark Drakeford on this. Now, surely, is the time to lay that failed approach to rest.’


Since 2017 the ‘Test, Vaccinate, Removal’ (TVR) scheme has been deployed on a small number of farms and aims to identify and remove bTB-infected badgers only. However, FOI data obtained by Dyfi Badger Group show that TVR is killing mostly healthy badgers, and at a significant cost. This is unlikely to effectively contribute to the control of the disease, and the results indicate the current policy to be failing on scientific effectiveness, humaneness and public cost grounds. In addition, many of those badgers killed had previously been vaccinated against bTB. Badger Trust has raised serious concerns with the current First Minister, Mark Drakeford, and continues to urgently seek a meeting with him.


 

The full transcript of Mark Drakeford’s speech:


‘If I’ve learnt anything about TB (bovine tuberculosis) it's that there is no point in just trying to trade statistics about it, because for every statistic that you will quote there will be a counter statistic that can be [stated] and the science behind it is disputed as well, as she knows.


This is for sure the reason why the lower area status has moved up because of the importation of TB by farmers buying infected cattle, and bringing them into the area. That is the single greatest reason why low incidence areas have moved up a very sad hierarchy.


Culling of badgers will not happen in Wales. Just be clear about that, it was in the Labour Party Manifesto, it was endorsed by the electorate, it will not happen. And if we want a serious debate it is better for farmers to recognise that, and again to talk with us about things that we can do rather than complaining about things that are not going to happen.


Inoculation [of cattle] is a far better long term solution to it. That is why we have employed Professor, Glyn Hewinson (1) of the world's leading figures in this field, here in Wales, brought to Wales, in order to assist