NFU Cymru has labelled comments made by the Mid & West Wales Senedd Member Joyce Watson in relation to farming families affected by bovine TB as ‘deplorable, insensitive and shocking’.

During yesterday’s (Tuesday, November 14) plenary session in the Senedd, the Minister for Rural Affairs made a statement on Bovine TB Eradication.

During the ensuing discussion, Mrs Watson said in relation to bTB strategy: “But if we’re talking about a rethink, Minister, have you looked at any farms that have perpetual TB status, and have you considered the question of whether those particular farms should be dairy farms at all? Because if it is the case that they are in perpetual TB infection status, surely they need to find another business.”

Those comments have been met with anger by many within the farming industry, prompting NFU Cymru to write to the MS to underline the hurt such comments have caused to the many farming families affected by bovine TB not just in Joyce Watson’s region of Mid & West Wales, but across the country.

In the letter, NFU Cymru Bovine TB Focus Group Chairman Roger Lewis said: “I was truly saddened and disappointed to hear your insensitive comments in the Senedd following the statement made by Minister Lesley Griffiths in relation to the Bovine TB Eradication Programme.

“I am struggling to put into words my frustration that a Member of the Senedd elected to represent Mid & West Wales could make such deplorable comments, so lacking in empathy and respect for the farming families in your constituency going through the emotional hell of dealing with an outbreak of bovine TB on their farm.

“Your suggestion that these families, many of whom are suffering persistent bovine TB breakdowns despite adhering to strict veterinary and scientific advice, should just walk away and find another business is – frankly – shocking.

“In the debate yesterday, the Minister and opposition spokespeople positively referred to the Pembrokeshire Bovine TB Project, a project led by local farmers and vets seeking to find solutions to this disease within the constraints that have been set by Welsh Government policy decisions.

“I am proud to be a part of this initiative and sincerely hope that the project can give a chink of light to those farming families and businesses that, yesterday, you appeared to completely dismiss.

“I invite you to spend a day with us to learn more about this work. A visit would also provide you with the opportunity to meet some of the farming families who are determined to find a way to rid this disease from our countryside and certainly have no intention of walking away and finding something else to do, as you suggested yesterday,” he added.

Bovine TB cases in Wales continue to decline overall, with a targeted approach taken in hot-spot areas and specific projects taking place in Pembrokeshire and Anglesey.

In an update to the Senedd on Tuesday, the Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said new incidents have decreased by over 18% in the 12 months to June this year, when compared to the same period five years ago – and the number of animals slaughtered for TB control has also decreased by almost 5%.

The Pembrokeshire TB Project is progressing with the team actively engaging with 15 farms selected by the six local veterinary practices involved.

The project involves the piloting of novel approaches over and above the statutory measures currently available. These focus on farmers and their vets working together to develop tailored, herd-level measures, including heightened biosecurity and ways of managing high-risk animals.

The Minister also gave an update on the situation on Anglesey where additional measures including pre-movement testing are being introduced.

Changes to come as part of the five-year Delivery Plan published earlier this year include, from February 2024, the reintroduction of Pre-Movement Testing for cattle movements within, and from the Low TB Area.

Also the requirement for Post-Movement Testing in the Intermediate TB Areas will be extended and permit the display of TB Free herd information on ibTB helping farmers’ to make informed purchasing decisions.

Recruitment to the Eradication Programme Board and the new Technical Advisory Group is underway and the Welsh Government are encouraging those with the relevant skills and experience to apply by the end of the month.

The Minister reiterated the on-farm slaughter policy would be looked at, particularly for heavily pregnant animals, and would be considered as a matter of urgency by the Technical Advisory Group.

The Minister said: “Whilst the picture of bovine TB is ever changing, I would like to emphasise the important, long-term trends show fewer affected herds and new herd incidents across Wales as a whole.

“As I emphasised in March, the Delivery Plan is centred on partnership working. TB will not, and cannot be eradicated by Government acting alone.

“Just as no two farms are the same, no two TB breakdowns are identical, and we do see variations in TB levels in different parts of Wales. Therefore, farmers working closely with their vet is crucial to both protect herds and keep TB out, as well as tackling the disease if it does occur.

“The Pembrokeshire Project is an excellent example of a collaborative, industry-led initiative – exploring new ways for vets and farmers to make informed decisions on disease prevention and control, at a herd level.

“I am also acutely aware of the impact of bovine TB on health and well-being of farmers and livelihoods. The mental health and wellbeing of those involved in the agricultural industry is of great concern to me.

“That is why we are determined to eradicate bovine TB. We can only do this by working together.

“I call upon the farming industry and veterinary profession to unite with Government and delivery partners to make further strides towards our shared goal of a TB Free Wales by 2041.

“It is an ambitious target, but an achievable one if we have the support, buy in and cooperation of everyone involved.”