Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig
Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee28/04/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Hefin David MS|
|Luke Fletcher MS|
|Paul Davies MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Samuel Kurtz MS|
|Sarah Murphy MS|
|Vikki Howells MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Elin Jenkins||Undeb Amaethwyr Cymru|
|Farmers Union of Wales|
|Gareth Enticott||Prifysgol Caerdydd|
|Professor Glyn Hewinson||Prifysgol Aberystwyth|
|Professor James Wood||Prifysgol Caergrawnt|
|University of Cambridge|
|Roger Lewis||Undeb Cenedlaethol yr Amaethwyr Cymru|
|National Farmers Union Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Aled Evans||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Lara Date||Ail Glerc|
|Robert Lloyd-Williams||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:29.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:29.
Croeso, bawb, i'r cyfarfod hwn o Bwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Dwi wedi derbyn ymddiheuriad oddi wrth Hefin David, ond dwi ddim wedi derbyn unrhyw ymddiheuriadau eraill. A oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Sam Kurtz.
Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. I have received an apology from Hefin David, but I have received no further apologies. Are there any declarations of interest that Members would wish to make? Sam Kurtz.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I declare an interest as a director of a charity, Wales young farmers clubs, and as chairman of Pembrokeshire young farmers clubs.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau eraill? Nac oes.
Thank you very much. Are there any further declarations of interest? No.
Felly, symudwn ni ymlaen i eitem 2 ar ein hagenda, sef papurau i'w nodi. Byddwch chi'n falch o glywed fy mod i ddim yn mynd i fynd trwy bob papur, ond oes yna unrhyw faterion hoffai Aelodau eu codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Nac oes.
We'll therefore move on to item 2 on our agenda, namely papers to note. You'll be pleased to hear that I'm not going to go through all of the papers, but are there any issues that Members would wish to raise on these papers? There are none.
Felly, symudwn ni ymlaen i eitem 3 ar ein hagenda. Dyma sesiwn banel gyntaf y pwyllgor i graffu ar gynigion Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer y rhaglen newydd i ddileu TB buchol. Nawr, yn y sesiwn hon, rŷn ni'n cymryd tystiolaeth gan academyddion. A gaf i groesawu'r tystion, ac a gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno'u hunain i'r record, a gallwn symud, wedyn, ymlaen yn syth i gwestiynau? Felly, a allaf i ddechrau gyda Glyn Hewinson?
We will therefore move on to item 3 on our agenda. This is our first panel session to scrutinise the Welsh Government's proposals for the refreshed bovine TB eradication programme. In this session, we're taking evidence from academics. May I welcome our witnesses, and may I ask them to introduce themselves for the record, and then we will move immediately to questions? So, if we could start with Glyn Hewinson.
Bore da. I'm Glyn Hewinson. I'm the Sêr Cymru chair here at Aberystwyth University, and I'm head of the Centre of Excellence for Bovine Tuberculosis.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. James Wood.
Thank you very much. James Wood.
Bore da. I'm James Wood. I'm a professor at the University of Cambridge. I'm a veterinary epidemiologist whose research covers bovine tuberculosis in both the UK and also Ethiopia and India. Thank you.
And Gareth Enticott.
Bore da. I'm a reader in human geography at Cardiff University. My research focuses on farmers' and vets' behaviour in relation to disease management and in particular bovine TB.
Thank you very much indeed for those introductions, and perhaps I can just kick off with some questions, and I suppose just a general question first of all. Do you believe that the Welsh Government's proposals to expand pre-movement and post-movement testing are proportionate and appropriate? Perhaps I can start with Glyn.
Thank you. I think one of the key things, having looked at bovine tuberculosis in Wales over the last few years since we established the centre of excellence here in Aberystwyth University, is that a lot of progress has been made in Wales, but some areas are lagging behind, especially in western Pembrokeshire, where we've seen an increase over the last 10 years in TB instance, whereas in most other areas, we've seen a decrease, except perhaps in northern Wales, where we are still seeing some introduction into the low-risk areas. As laid out in the consultation document, a lot of the drivers of this are movement of infected animals into areas. I think we don't know what is happening in Pembrokeshire, and I think that more needs to be done there to understand what's driving infection there.
But I think the evidence over the last 10 years, really, has been that movement of cattle into an area can cause problems and set up new hotspots of infection. So, especially if your target is to eradicate TB and you want to keep low-risk areas low risk and intermediate—you don't want to introduce any more TB into those areas—then you've got to find ways of preventing the movement of infected animals into an area. One of the most effective ways, I think, of doing that is to do either pre or post-movement testing. Which test you choose, I guess we'll discuss later, but I think movement testing is one of the key ways to try and reduce the risk. You won't eliminate the risk, but reduce the risk of introducing TB into new areas and setting up new hotspots.
Okay, thank you. James Wood.
Thank you. You ask quite a difficult question. There is a logic to all of the proposals in the consultation document, and Glyn has described the importance of trying to exclude infection from being introduced from outside any area. That's not just low-risk areas, actually; it's all areas—you don't want to bring in any further infection into an area whether it's already got a burden of infection or not.
The issue around proportionality of the measures introduces a socioeconomic question, which I think is hard to address, given the evidence that I have seen. I think there's a very clear disease-control logic to it, but whether that is proportionate against the costs incurred by farmers is a far harder question to answer. I've read some of the evidence from different farming bodies that's been presented to this committee, who seem to feel that the costs are not proportionate. I'm not sure that they have evidence to support that, but obviously they are concerned about that.
I do think, as well as pre- and post-movement testing to prevent the ingress of infection into an area, it's very important to recognise the key role that testing plays in stopping the spread of infection within an area. I think that is identified in your consultation document, in particular around the lower incidence area in the north of your country. I think that introducing testing to stop the spread of infection in an infected area is actually, in many cases, more important than stopping infection coming into it, because of the importance of local movement of cattle in driving a lot of infection transmission. That's identified in the lower risk area in particular, but, actually, where you have a far higher burden of infection in cattle that will be missed by our current infection testing, because the testing is not 100 per cent sensitive, then, actually, the burden of transmission caused by local movement of cattle in your higher incidence area actually is likely to be rather higher than it is in your lower risk area, but you won't notice it so much because of the background level. So, I think it's very important to recognise the key role that testing can play, and actually in the need that we have across Britain, not just in Wales, for increasing the sensitivity of testing, in particular when you have identified infection on herds or perhaps small clusters of infection. At the moment, most of our testing fails to identify all infected animals.
The comment I'd make is on the success of pre- and post-movement testing in keeping infection out of Scotland, which I think is interesting in that it uses the same tests that are used in England and Wales, but has a far lower incidence of infection. One of the purposes for post-movement testing being introduced in Scotland, in particular for animals being introduced from outside of Scotland, was actually not just to detect infected animals, because post-movement testing has not found that many infections, and certainly doesn't in terms of the published data in England, but it's acting as a disincentive for risky movement. I think this is where the work that Gareth Enticott does it critically important in terms of understanding how farmers take decisions in terms of their purchasing in relation to animal movement. Anything that disincentives purchase of riskier cattle coming from higher risk areas or higher risk farms can help to reduce the burden of disease. And certainly within England, I don't think that we have a full understanding of the different factors that influence farmer purchasing behaviour, but I think that is a critically important part of a holistic control programme. It's not just about testing, it's also about behaviours and incentivising good behaviour. Thank you.
Thank you very much indeed. And Gareth Enticott.
Thanks. I'm not an epidemiologist, so I'll defer to James and Glyn on that. I just wanted to reiterate something that James just mentioned about proportionality in the sense that what counts as proportionate reflects the way in which policy as a whole is made around TB and the way in which farmers feel part, or not a part, of policy making in association with TB. That's a story that has been going on for the last 20 or 30 years, in which farmers feel that policy is being done to them rather than being part of the policy-making process. The history of TB eradication in other countries shows that the more farmers feel part of that process, the more that you can push the envelope, so that things that weren't proportionate become proportionate because of the levels of trust that farmers have in the governance of the disease. I just wanted to make that point. I think that cuts across so many issues that we'll probably discuss today.
Thank you very much. In your view, are there any barriers to the increased testing proposed by the Welsh Government, such as veterinary capacity, for example? Perhaps I can start with Glyn again.
I don't have detailed knowledge of the veterinary capacity in Wales. I know that some areas are stretched and I know that TB testing is one area that maintains a lot of practices in Wales in terms of capacity and manpower.
The thing I think is worth looking into is the use of lay testers, which may help to support the increased testing that is being suggested. Some practices may welcome that, others may not, and it may be that you need a blended approach in Wales to using lay testers plus vets to do the TB testing, and that may be a way that you can expand the capacity that you have. I think it would be useful to have a study that looks into this in more detail to see the impacts, because it's quite complex, the relationship between vets and TB testing across the country. I think an in-depth look at that would be helpful, but lay testing may be one way of increasing your capacity in this area.
In terms of gamma interferon testing, if that were one of the tests that were to be used, I know that the Carmarthen laboratory has increased its capacity quite considerably, so I think, at the moment, they would be able to do that, although you would need to check with the Animal and Plant Health Agency whether the capacity was sufficient for the needs. But, again, I would highlight the importance of having a laboratory like Carmarthen in Wales to do such testing.
And James Wood.
I can't speak specifically for either veterinary or laboratory capacity in Wales. However, I do think that it's important to recognise that the veterinary profession is on the Home Office's shortage professions list. There has been a massive decrease in the number of veterinarians registering with the royal college, the regulatory body, every year. The longer term impact of that decline that has happened post EU exit I think is unclear. That is of huge concern across all sectors and it would be surprising if it did not impact the agricultural sector in Wales, as it is impacting many different veterinary sectors already across the UK.
The regulatory body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, has approved the use of lay testers for some specified work. Lay testers have to work as part of a veterinary team and, indeed, there is real scope for faster introduction of greater numbers of lay testers. They don't require four, five or six years of veterinary training and registration, but they do need very specific and very careful training. I think there are real advantages to be explored with that, as Glyn has described. I think, generally speaking, the lay testers are only able to do the skin testing and are typically not used for the collection of blood samples necessary for the gamma interferon test. So, greater use of that is going to be constrained by veterinary capacity and by the laboratory capacity needed to develop that as well. So, I think this is a real concern. Unless measures have an impact and unless the shortage occupation list has a positive impact in terms of increasing the registrations we get, which I don't believe it currently has yet done, I think we should expect there to be a limit in terms of what can be done in terms of veterinary capacity because of the general national situation.
And Gareth Enticott.
I agree with Glyn about lay testers. I think it's really important to recognise that TB testing is not an attractive job for vets; few of them like doing it. It's actually one of the causes, or associated causes, of them leaving the profession. They train for five years and they end up doing a really boring job, or what they perceive to be a really boring job, and dangerous job, and it's not really what they were trained to do. Quickly, they can become disheartened by that. I suppose it's harder to attract vets to mid and west Wales and when you're already up against that challenge; asking them to do quite a boring job is not particularly attractive to them. I'm really interested, and as Glyn said, in lay testers. Although there are issues with that, and perhaps some practices are not keen on that, they do provide a better way of addressing some of the current challenges facing the profession.
Okay. Thank you very much indeed for that. If I can now bring in Sam Kurtz.
Thank you, Chair. Could I start by requesting that we have a briefing for the testing regimes that are available? They've mentioned the skinfold test and the gamma interferon test. I think for us as Members, it'd be helpful to understand exactly what those tests include and how they're administered.
Good morning, panel. Thank you very much. Obviously, we've discussed the current skin test. Are alternatives available that increase the sensitivity, optimise the sensitivity and specificity of the testing regime? Professor Glyn, I'll start with you, because you mentioned earlier animals passing pre-movement tests, entering a herd and then infecting new animals within the new herd, following a clear pre-movement test. Is it the case, then, that we need to increase the sensitivity around the skinfold test or introduce a new testing regime altogether? I'll start with Professor Glyn.
Thank you very much. I think it's quite useful to understand that there is no perfect test, and there is often a trade-off between the sensitivity of a test, i.e. how many infected animals can you detect, and specificity, which is how many animals test positive that aren't actually infected. There's always a trade-off. The more sensitive your test, the less specific it is. With the skin test, we in the UK, the British isles, use a comparative skin test, which is where we compare the reaction that the cow has with bovine tuberculin compared to the lump that's produced when you inject the animal with avian tuberculin, and that's because of the background levels of other microbacteria that aren't TB in the environment. The reason we use this is it's specific; it increases the specificity of the test, but it decreases the sensitivity, so we can't detect as many animals using this comparative test as you can with a single test using bovine tuberculin, which they use in most other countries. What we've done in the UK is that we've, in effect, sacrificed the sensitivity for the specificity of the test because there's an economic impact on false-positive testing.
Wales was an early adopter of this. There was a recognition that the test was not perfect, and therefore other tests, which were more sensitive and in fact detected animals at earlier stages of infection, were introduced, and this is what the gamma interferon test does. Although it's more sensitive, it's less specific. Its use is really in herds where you've already detected TB in the herd and you want to identify as many animals as possible that have TB, so that you can clear the herd as quickly as possible. That was the second test that was introduced. Then there's a third test, which is now in use in certain cases in Wales, which detects antibodies against TB as opposed to a cellular immune response, which the gamma interferon test and the skin test identify. If you use all three tests together, you maximise your sensitivity but you do reduce your specificity and therefore you would use these tests to clear the herd rather than using all three as a surveillance test, where you're just looking for whether a herd has infection.
In terms of the pre-movement testing, there are a number of options you could go for, and it depends what you're trying to achieve. If you're trying to stop movement of any infected animals out of a herd, you might use your most sensitive test rather than your most specific. At the moment, we use the most specific test, which lacks sensitivity. We could use the trade test, which is the single intradermal test, which is where you just use bovine tuberculin, which is required for movement of animals to other countries. So, this is the trade test, rather than the comparative test, which we use at the moment.
Equally, there could be thought given to the use of gamma interferon, because that's a more sensitive test for movement of animals, either pre or post, but, of course, there will be impacts in this—because it's less specific, you're more likely to get a false-positive test. So, it depends whether you're trying to stop infection leaving a herd or whether you're trying to improve or to facilitate the trade of animals and there will be a trade-off there.
The other thing to say is that there's a lot of co-infection, especially in dairy animals, with paratuberculosis, which can affect the single intradermal test, and that's one of the reasons why we use the comparative, in that you can get false positives because the bovine tuberculin will give a positive result in some instances in paratuberculosis or Johne's infected cows. Therefore, if you knew that there was Johne's infection on a farm, you might use a more specific but more sensitive test, which is something like a flexi gamma test, and I realise that I can't go into how these work at the moment, but this is a more specific gamma interferon-based test. So, there are a number of options to increase your sensitivity if your objective is to stop or to reduce the risk of moving infected animals out of a herd.
Thank you. Just a couple of points to come back there before I move on to other members of the panel, Professor Glyn, you mentioned the antibody test, is that the Enferplex test?
No, at the moment, the test used in Wales is the IDEXX test. The Enferplex test is being trialled in a number of areas, and it has been OIE recognised. I think that one of the really useful things that can be done in pilot projects is to try and understand, potentially, what is going on in Pembrokeshire in persistently infected herds and to see where these tests work well and where they fail and what the best combination of tests might be for clearing TB in persistently infected herds and in recurrent herds, where tests may be better—
Thank you. Thank you, yes. You mentioned the economic issue with regard to false-positive testing, but isn't it the case that false-negative testing also delivers an economic hit, by introducing what I would call—we've all become accustomed to phrases such as 'superspreader', given the pandemic—a superspreading cow that continues to pass TB testing through the skin test yet continues to reinfect other animals around it, causing not just economic heartache for the agricultural community, but emotional heartache as well?
I couldn't agree more that there is absolutely an economic impact in terms of when you spread disease out of a herd and create new areas of infection. The cost-benefit analysis—and this comes to your question earlier about proportionality—is very difficult, so when people look at cost and benefit, they often just look at the cost, rather than the long-term benefit. Of course, stopping disease is very hard to monetarise, but, obviously, from a disease control perspective, you want to try and stop disease spreading out of a herd, as we discussed earlier.
Thank you. I really appreciate that. I'll move on to Professor James Wood, because I'm conscious that, Gareth, you mentioned that you weren't an epidemiologist, so it would be unfair to question you regarding testing sensitivity and specificity, so I'll move on to Professor James.
I think that Glyn has provided a good oversight of some of the challenges of the use of the different tests. There are two additional points that I wanted to add. The first is to recognise that England and Wales use the least sensitive tests as screen tests of any countries in the world, and we are countries that have some of the greatest challenges with bovine TB—persistent challenges—and it's my view that the two points are related.
The second point is the one that, in your supplementary questions to Glyn, you picked up on. We focus so much on the costs of false-positive reactors. If we find a false-positive reactor, the animal is killed, there is the cost of the loss of that cow, and then there's the cost to the farmer of the restriction and the further testing needed to formally clear the herd of infection, even if infection is not there because it's just a false-positive that may be retaining that. That is a limited cost, which, in my view, is frequently far outweighed, as your supplementary question suggests, by the cost of missing infection because of ongoing hidden spread, which can be far worse than time-limited and cost-limited challenges of dealing with limited numbers of animals that come up positive in tests. Other countries use more sensitive permutations of this skin tests with their different interpretations and manage the issues around false positives that concern us so much in England and Wales, and I think we need to take a far harder and closer look at the logic that we have been using to justify the testing regime that we have and actually consider the use of things like the bovine-only test that Glyn mentioned. Thank you.
Thank you, I appreciate that. Just one more supplementary, Chair, if I may. With regard to the Chair's first question, with regard to extending movement testing pre and post movement, is that in itself insufficient if we're continuing with the current interpretation of the testing currently used? As in, we're adding another layer of testing, but if the sensitivity isn't increased, or the interpretation therefore, it's an additional bureaucratic barrier for the agricultural community, yet delivers no real benefit in eradicating the disease. Because, to come back to Professor Glyn's point, what our end point would be, as someone within the agricultural community, is to eradicate TB. Be that in the short, medium or long term, that must be the end goal. So, surely, if pre-movement and post-movement testing is increased, but with the same interpretation, will that deliver any material benefit, or must the sensitivity be increased as well? I'll start with James.
Thank you, that's a really good question and, I think, too often, in the context of bovine TB, we think about just the proportions of animals missed or proportions of animals detected, either correctly or falsely. But actually what we really need to think about is what our overall testing regime is delivering in relation to its impact on the R value of bovine TB in the region that we're concerned with—obviously, in your case, Wales. This is something we have rather a bad hold of, and you need to look at—. I think it's useful to consider how the R value has changed over time in different regions of Wales, and how a nudge, in one direction or the other, could impact positively or negatively on the R value, because, actually, what we're not going to achieve with bovine TB is elimination or eradication of this disease in the next two or three years; this is a long game. So, we need to look, just as we've been doing with COVID, at the R values, but we need to look at long-term implications, obviously, because it's a much slower infection compared to COVID, and understand the impact that increasing the test sensitivity can have, which may bring the R value either slightly more below 1, or bring it down below 1 where it's hovering around 1 at the moment. And that, in the longer term, even with a small change in increasing the detection of infection and reducing the trade in infected animals can be very valuable in relation to bringing the disease under control. So, I think it's a mistake with this to think about the absolutes of always trying to find infection, because we won't ever be able to do that. We need to think, in the longer term, holistically about what the impact of a control measure is overall in reducing transmission so that the R value is brought sufficiently below 1 so that the disease can be eradicated in a timely way rather than dribbling on for more decades, as it has done, I'm afraid, over the last 40 years. Thank you.
Thank you, James. Glyn, anything additional to add?
Yes, I was just going to follow up on that. I think I agree exactly with what James was saying, and reducing R is exactly what we want to do. And actually, that will be different in different epidemiological situations, and so I think understanding what the drivers for infection are in different areas, and indeed on different farms, so that you can tailor interventions, is really important and is going to be a real key to controlling the disease in Wales in the future. So, the local drivers are key, and which tests can reduce R the best in combination in that epidemiological situation I think will be key.
That's about clearing up infection. In terms of stopping infection spreading, I still think that a more sensitive pre- and post-movement test would be most effective in terms of stopping the spread of infection. And I just want to make one other point. There are tests that aren't statutorily used at the moment but are coming online, and I think, as we've been looking at the disease, and as Gareth said earlier on, it's really important that farmers and vets don't feel that TB is something that's done to them, but feel that they can actually be empowered to do something about TB control and making decisions on-farm in terms of control. And this is where some of the, if you like, non-statutory tests may play a role, in that as long as you don't lift restrictions on a farm until they pass a statutory test, there is scope, I think, for farmers and vets to work together, using other tests, to make decisions about management and identifying what they consider as higher risk animals based on the epidemiology, on the testing history of the animal, and perhaps responses to other tests, which could really play a very important role in the vets and farmers feeling empowered in terms of disease control, but also to help reduce the R in real time on those farms. And I think pilot areas, test areas, on seeing what effects that could have, would be a really helpful thing to look at in the persistent and recurrently infected herds, especially somewhere like Pembrokeshire, where, as I said, they're bucking the trend in terms of TB incidence.
Excellent. Thank you, panel. Back to you, Chair.
Thank you, Sam. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy to ask a few questions. Sarah.
Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, all, for being here today. I'm going to ask some questions now about informed purchasing. So, just to start off, a very open question: do you think the requirement to provide TB information at the point of sale should be mandatory? And could you talk us through your thoughts on that, and the pros and cons you see around that? I'm going to come to you first, James, if that's okay.
Thank you, Sarah. That's a question, as you know, that's being grappled with in England as well as in Wales. I think that, if there was a straightforward answer, you wouldn't be asking me the question in the first place. It's not an area that my research has actively covered, and I think that the answer that Gareth will give you is probably going to be more informed. I think that there are distinct advantages in making the information mandatory, but I think it's very important that it's not just at markets, but that the information is also available at point of purchase when private sales are being conducted, given how important private sales are in particular for local movement, and given that we know how important local movement is in the transmission of bovine TB between farms locally. I think making it mandatory does not mean that anyone is going to use it, and I think that's one of the greatest challenges in relation to that information. I don't know what the solution is there, but if it's not mandatory then it probably won't be available in most cases and therefore won't be useful. So, I think there are some advantages in making it mandatory, but I think, in our rightly free world, we shouldn't—. Making it mandatory is never going to force people to actually listen to it, but at least it makes it available to them to consider in their purchasing decisions. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Gareth, I'm going to come to you next then, please.
Okay, thanks. Like James said, it's an interesting question that has quite a complicated answer. I think, on the face of it, providing information like this is quite common in all areas of our lives and we would expect it, but there are two assumptions to the question: one, does it make a difference; and two, the mandatory aspect, does that create any harms? I think, in relation to the mandatory side of things, people will talk about, 'As soon as you do this, you create a two-tier market.' I think that already exists anyway, and farmers are operating on rumour, hearsay, local knowledge, whatever it is, in order to make their decisions. So, I don't believe that that is actually a barrier. And in fact a more equitable, fairer system would be to make that information available to everybody, so that everybody is in the same boat and some people don't have special access to some knowledge that other people don't.
Whether it makes a difference or not is an interesting question. Again, in general life, we might think that providing information on anything is going to change people's behaviour, but it's never that simple, and farmers are just the same as us, general members of the public, when they go shopping or whatever it is. And when they go purchasing cattle, actually TB is not at the top of the list of priorities. All the research shows that it's important, but it's a second or a third order priority when they're seeking out what to buy. There have been some studies that have tried to simulate cattle purchasing. Some of them have shown that, when you provide this kind of information, fewer people will bid on cattle, but they will bid more money. So, in that sense, that's positive. Some of my work suggests, really, that what farmers are more interested in when they're in the market is: does this animal look good; does it fit their system ? And trying to get them to change their mindset to get TB at the top of the list of things is not really going to work very quickly. So, providing information on TB is useful, but don't expect it to provide some kind of magic bullet to resolve the problems that we may have in terms of spreading TB through cattle movements. I think that probably summarises the research on that.
Thank you so much. That's so interesting. And Glyn, I'll come to you next. Thank you.
Thank you. I guess, in principle, as Gareth said, providing as much information as possible is very helpful in terms of being informed about the purchasing that you make. And certainly I've come across cases while looking at the data where farmers have clearly been trying to do the right thing by buying animals from a low-risk area, but actually it was a high-risk animal in a low-risk area because it's moved from—. So, actually, having not just herd level but animal-level information would be helpful for those who are trying to use that information to make the right decisions and not seed infection into other areas.
I think the way the market works, though, is that you may well find that animals are bought whatever and find their way into the market but by different routes, or at least people will buy animals if they're for sale whether that information is available or not. So, your other option is to stop the movement of animals at source, and this might address, for instance, your question about whether you get a two-tier system. But I think, as Gareth said, you might already have one there.
So, in principle, free information to allow purchasing, I think, is a good thing, but that data needs to be made available rapidly. So, there are technical challenges, I think, if you're going to do that, about getting information to the point of sale, wherever that is, in a timely manner.
Thank you so much. Now, I'm going to come to you next again, because it brings me on really well to my next question. So, the Welsh Government is proposing to show the number of years unrestricted herds have been officially tuberculosis free, which it says indicates the likelihood of a breakdown. It says this could be used to support cattle-purchasing decisions, then. Do you think that this is an appropriate indicator?
So, it's a system that they've used in New Zealand, for instance, and I think what it does is it overcomes the zonal issue that you have, where everything in a high-risk area is potentially high risk. So, by looking at a herd level, that, in effect, helps those that are in a high-risk area but have never had a TB breakdown, which is 90 per cent of herds, or whatever. So, by doing that, you're at least doing a herd-level risk, so you're creating information at that herd level, which is, I think, the first way to go. So, understanding what the herd risk is good, but, as I've said, you really need to understand the risk of the individual animal. So, I think that this EID Cymru is going to be really key, but it will be really important if you are going to use this animal movement information and all the animal data from that—and I would suggest in a central hub—that the system speaks to all animals across the epidemiological unit, which is Great Britain. So, it is really important that EID Cymru speaks with the Livestock Information Programme work that's going on in England and the animal movements system in Scotland. That would be a really high priority for me, to get that right.
That's great. You've actually answered part of my next question as well. I will come to you, Gareth, and James as well, but just to follow up on what you've said there, Glyn: NFU Cymru believes that the Welsh Government must wait for this database to be available before they actually move on with any of this, do you think they should wait or do you think they should just—
I think, based on other countries, if you were going to have informed purchasing, the suggestion of years at risk, or whatever—the number of years that you've been free of restriction—is not a bad first step if you want to put it in place. I have no idea how long it's going to take to put these systems in place, and I think it always takes longer than you think, especially with large IT projects. So, if you want to get on with things, I would use that method that has been proposed first, yes.
Really helpful. Thank you so much. So, Gareth, I'm going to come to you next and go back to my earlier question about the number of years unrestricted herds have been officially tuberculosis free. Do you think this is an appropriate indicator and that it should be used, and what are your thoughts as well on the EID Cymru database?
Okay. Thanks. So, in terms of years free, as Glyn said, this number really, or this indicator really comes from the New Zealand system of risk-based trading. It's really important, I think, to understand the origins of that, in that farmers and auctioneers came up with that idea themselves, and it reflects how they were part of the governance of the system. It's interesting, actually, that vets at the time in New Zealand didn't think it was a particularly useful indicator; they didn't see this gradation that farmers liked, but farmers like this idea of a 1 to 10 system—it made sense to them. And it really shows the importance of involving farmers in decision making.
It works, I think, because it's really simple, and there is that phrase, 'Perfection is the enemy of the good', which has been talked about in relation to COVID, that you just have to get on and do things. It's not perfect by any stretch, but it does provide some level of knowledge of information about risk. We've done some research where we've shown these kinds of indicators to farmers. I think, in general, they like it. Some of them, though, they see that and then they want more information, they want the context behind that information: why is it only two years? Why is it only six years? Has this farm also bought in other animals? And those kinds of information-hungry farmers are probably likely to be able to get that information without mandating it, because they're going to have good relationships with the people they are selling to or buying from, and they'll be buying from somebody because they trust them. It's not the information that they're necessarily trusting, but that personal relationship that they've got. So, I think it's good in that respect; it doesn't provide everything. If you show it at a market, like I said before, it's something that is there, but I think other factors are going to be driving the decision-making system there.
In terms of EID Cymru, I think what's kind of interesting here is—and, again, referring to the number of years of being TB free—that information has already been shown in England on ibTB. So, English farmers can see that; Welsh farmers can't see in Wales. Although I'm a proud Welshman, disease knows no boundaries, as they say, and you have to—. Trade crosses the England-Wales border and, if you really want a robust approach to eradication, everybody has to be kind of singing from the same hymn sheet and you have to have the same measures, you have to have systems that talk to each other clearly and efficiently. That, I think, is the key issue. There is a danger, I think, in that currently we've got databases that work across England, Wales and Scotland, and we may end up with each country kind of going in slightly different directions and that just causing problems.
That's really helpful, thank you so much. And James, I'll come to you finally.
I've little to add to what your previous two experts have said to you. I think that understanding that the biggest risk factor for a farm having TB is having had it before, and the time since it's had it before is really important. So, I think that the logic of using this score of number of years free is very, very clear, and I think that's good. But the additional point I'd make that I think really is the only comment that's useful we can make on the specific Wales database is that my personal belief is that score should be driven by the highest risk animal. So, if you haven't had TB on your farm for seven years, but you bought in an animal or animals from a farm that had it last year, then I think that your score should reflect the fact that you might have had it last year because you've got an animal on your farm from last year. I think that that is another way of incentivising positive behaviour in terms of buying from less risky farms. It does make it harder for those farms, obviously, that have had TB recently. I think if the concern is—[Inaudible.]—then that would be a logical approach.
Thank you so much, panel. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you Sarah. If I can now bring in Luke Fletcher. Luke.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'm going to ask a couple of questions around the compensation payment schemes. The farming unions have rejected the Welsh Government's proposals to have a tabular valuation system. Of course, they use this system in England already. So, I was wondering if you could outline anything that we can learn from the system in England for compensation and should it be applied in Wales. I'll start with James, if that's okay, and then work my way through the panel.
I think that this is a question that falls outside of my real expertise, Luke. You will be aware that the tabular approach is very unpopular amongst farmers with high-value items, pedigree farmers and so on, but it has advantages in terms of logistics and speed of operation. I don't think that I'm competent to give you any useful further comment on the pros and cons of moving to a tabular approach.
No worries. Should I go to Gareth, then?
Thanks. Yes, like James said, it's not popular amongst farmers, but I think the key question here is, 'What is the logic behind moving to a tabular system? What is trying to be achieved?' And if the aim is to save money and make things quicker and simpler, then it may be perfect for that, but at the same time we're also talking about using compensation as a kind of incentive or a change in compensation values to disincentivise certain behaviours. I don't think it helps, mixing these things up. If you are reducing compensation, reducing it down, going back to the point I made at the start, farmers don't feel that that's particularly helpful to them, so why should they do other things? How does that incentivise their behaviour? And it might be a better way, or more helpful way, of thinking about how compensation is used as to turn it around and how can compensation be used as a reward in certain circumstances, for example, going back to what Glyn was saying about using different kinds of tests to identify risky animals.
I know you've got a question coming up around incentives and compensation. I think the broad thing here is, if farmers don't feel part of the system, as I've said before, if they don't think things are fair, if they don't think that they can—. If everything is being done to resolve the problems of TB, then reducing compensation further doesn't get them onside, it doesn't get them to trust the system, and it doesn't get them involved in other kinds of non-statutory initiatives that may help in the long term.
Thanks for that, Gareth. Glyn, did you have anything further you'd like to add to that?
Again, this isn't an area of my expertise, but I agree with the things that have been said so far. The one thing I would say is that there are—. It would be worth thinking about how compensation could be used to reward behaviours, as Gareth said. But, also, I think there's a sweet spot in terms of compensation that you need to hit, where you are not incentivising people to farm TB, but, equally, you are rewarding them sufficiently to comply with the disease control systems that are in place. And I think the evidence at the moment is that most farmers do comply with that. So, that's just something to think about.
Thanks, Glyn. We've already alluded, potentially, to this, I think, in Gareth's answer, but one driver for the Welsh Government's proposals to change compensation has been that overspend in the budget. I was wondering if—and I'll stick with Gareth on this, if that's okay—. I was wondering whether you could see any expenditure that could sensibly be reduced in other elements of the TB eradication programme.
I can't comment on that. I think what I would make is a general comment. Again, I know I've said this before, but involving farmers in working out how to budget for TB is a really good thing. It gets them involved in determining how TB policy is made. Again, going to New Zealand, one of the things they've always done is that farmers have voted on compensation levels. Essentially, the compensation budget has been decided by farmers. Who gets that money, how is it allocated according to risk—all these things farmers can say. And there may be better ways of organising how compensation is spent, and farmers may have those ideas themselves.
So, I don't—. I'm not keen on saying, 'Well, we should spend this on this activity, and that on that activity.' A better starting place is to get people together and say, 'What should we—? This is how much money we've got: what are our priorities, and how should we deal with this problem?'
Glyn, James, did you have anything further to add on that?
Just that I absolutely agree with what Gareth's saying, that this needs to be a team Wales effort, and involving farmers and vets and Government together in decision making, and perhaps empowering people to do that, and making co-decisions, would be a very good way of bringing people together to, if you like, rally everyone behind this for the benefit of Wales. I think that it's really important.
The other thing I would flag up is that, if you are going to increase testing, you will detect more animals in the short term and that will increase cost, and it will look as though TB is increasing, but it will just mean that you're finding more. So, actually, the budgetary issues are very important here. So, thinking about how you're going to address that if you really want eradication is key, I think.
Thanks, Glyn. Did you have anything to add at all, James?
No. I think that, in your action area, you've already seen the impact of increased controls finding more animals: a short-term increase in costs; longer term, a saving in money. I think this is where, in budgetary terms, with disease control, you have to regard that front cost as an investment rather than a cost.
Thank you. And again, we touched on this in some of those previous answers on incentivising behaviours and disincentivising behaviours that might be detrimental to disease control. I was wondering—and, again, I'll go back to Gareth—if you could expand on that a bit further. I'd be interested to hear your views on, specifically, the Welsh Government and their comment that the current system for compensation doesn't sufficiently disincentivise those behaviours.
Going back to some of the points you made about cow purchasing, we've done work, talking to farmers and kind of simulating cow purchasing and varying the compensation values—so, if you buy a high-risk animal, you get lower compensation in future if it was to become a reactor. And it's not a big incentive, it's not a driver for how people purchase cattle, because there are other things in the foreground driving that decision. You're not there thinking, 'Oh, if I buy this, in a couple of years it may get TB and therefore I'll get less compensation.' That's not the mindset that most people would have. And I do, I suppose, get a little bit worried about the way in which compensation is seen as the main, or even the only, financial driver or incentive—or disincentive, sorry. There's so much emphasis placed on compensation, and I don't really think that it has that strong a value. Obviously, farmers want to be fairly compensated, and, as Glyn said, you don't want to go too far the other way. But I do think that there is a role—. We spend too much time, I think, talking about penalties and not enough time talking about rewards for farmers, and it's really important for an effective eradication system.
Thanks, Gareth. Glyn and James, do you have anything further to add before I hand back to the Cadeirydd?
Just that I think reward is a really important concept, and that, actually, some of the evidence in behaviours—. For instance, paying for a test, especially a post-movement or a pre-movement test—there's good evidence that that changes behaviours. I don't know whether it's more than using compensation, but there is good evidence that that does change behaviours, for instance, in Scotland, from where farmers will purchase their animals.
Brilliant. Thank you, Glyn. Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd.
Diolch, Luke. If I can now bring in Vikki Howells to just ask a few questions. Vikki.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning, panel. TB is a perennial problem, isn't it? And I know it's something that's not just struggled with in Wales, or the UK, but around the world as well. I know that, in some of your answers, there's already been reference to good practice in other countries, but that's really the thrust of my question, and I wanted to dig down deeper with you all about what we can learn from what is going on in other countries around the world. So, maybe if I start with Glyn with that.
As you say, we've already touched—fairly extensively, I would think—on the sorts of practices of other countries. I think the key three things that we've discussed that I think I would feed back is that (1) most countries use the more sensitive test for detecting TB; (2) is that there is a shared partnership governance, I think, that is really important to get buy-in, as Gareth was talking about in New Zealand, but also in Ireland. There is joint government and industry decision making that really brings people on board. And I think that we do have to look at some of these governance systems that do bring people together in a partnership, because I think we do need to build more trust. I know there's a taskforce at the moment in Wales, looking at ways that that can be done, and I think we should look at that and reflect on, perhaps, how things are done in other countries that do bring industry together with government. So, those are the top two things that I think would make a big difference: thinking about governance and working with all stakeholders, and looking at how testing is done to improve sensitivity and achieve eradication.
And I suppose the third thing I would say is on the idea of cost-benefit. Australia did manage to eradicate TB, but it took a very long time, a lot of money, but then the money saved afterwards means that they don't have to have such stringent control programmes anymore. So, there is a long-term gain for short-term pain.
Thank you, Glyn. Gareth, is there anything that you'd like to add?
Yes, thank you. A couple of things. I think the first thing is we use this word 'eradication' a lot and we need to have a clearer understanding of what that actually means. Glyn just mentioned Australia, and, effectively, the way they eradicated the disease at the end was by putting a lot of farmers out of business, and that is the reality of a zero TB approach, if you like, and if that's what is required or wanted then we need to be conscious of that and the impacts that may have within the Welsh farming community.
I've mentioned New Zealand a lot, and I like New Zealand, but I think there are some—. I'd also add cautious words about just looking at New Zealand and thinking it's a great situation. I think what's really important to remember is the origins of how that system evolved and actually how we in Wales and England are in a similar situation now as a result of EU exit. So, in New Zealand, the animal health board was created on the back of, essentially, the Government withdrawing from providing a lot of services, not just within agriculture but across the board. So, New Zealand withdrew subsidies from agriculture, but they also withdrew funding for disease control. And I think we're in a similar situation with Brexit, which gives us various opportunities, and maybe James can talk abut that in relation to testing and things like that, but I think what's important to remember is that there were key individuals in New Zealand at the time who stood up and occupied a very highly visible leadership role, and took quite big personal and economic risks for themselves in order to set up this system. So, having clear, visible leaders and leadership I think is a real important part of any eradication programme.
And, then, just finally, looking closer to home, there are lessons we can learn from England. I think the TB Advisory Service in England is working really well and, again, I think that has clear leaders to it, who are out there in the community spreading a message and working with farmers. They've got a clear kind of branding, if you like, and they're highly visible, and I think that's really important. I don't think we really have that in Wales at the moment. We have similar advisory services and systems, but I'm not convinced that they are as visible as they are in England.
Thank you, Gareth. And James.
You'll have heard about the use of more sensitive tests and how England and Wales, and, actually, to an extent, Scotland, use the least sensitive tests available to us, because of concern over short-term costs. I think that's one distinction that sets us apart. I think the issue of partnership over chronic disease control is interesting and New Zealand is often brought up in this respect. But I think there are counterfactual examples of how eradication has been achieved by very stringent measures imposed centrally but with a lot of enforcement. I sense, in this century, we're all trying to move away from this and trying to do things in a more collaborative manner, and I am a firm believer in a collaborative approach being optimal for disease control—chronic disease control, where you need long-term behavioural change and behavioural buy-in from the key stakeholders, which are farmers. Where we are considering controls elsewhere, I think many of your stakeholders would be very disappointed if the wildlife issue wasn't mentioned. This is often cited as, 'You can't possibly control the disease without dealing with the reservoir', and, actually, without a full understanding of the impact of cattle infection for badgers. It's impossible to say that you cannot control bovine TB in cattle without dealing with the reservoir because it may well be that if cattle seeding of badgers is so important for that infection—it is actually very important, but we don't know how important—that you can control the infection in Wales, as it has been done in Scotland, but I suspect that measures that directly impact on transmission to and from wildlife reservoirs are important.
Biosecurity has not been managed enough in relation to the control of this infection. Biosecurity involves cattle measures in particular in relation to purchasing, which we've already discussed, but also attempts to separate wildlife from cattle are important and reducing infection risk from wildlife that are there. Now, that could be culling and that has been shown statistically to have a positive impact in England, but it could also involve vaccination of badgers, as you know has been actively considered in England. And although there is not direct evidence of the impact of badger vaccination programmes on the incidence of disease in cattle, there's every scientific justification for expecting there to be a positive impact there. And we know that BCG vaccination of badgers, if you can vaccinate enough of them, can have a positive impact on disease in the individual and at the sett level. So, I think that considering something active around wildlife, including biosecurity, and that is particularly promoted through the TB advisory service approach, which Gareth has mentioned, I don't think you can underestimate the importance of that.
And really the last point that I want to make in relation to understanding key barriers to the control of this disease, is that, I think, for far too long in England and Wales this has been regarded as a notifiable disease that is the responsibility of Government. That has disempowered farmers and their private veterinary advisers to a huge extent. And I think that there is good evidence from countries like New Zealand, but actually also Australia as well to an extent, that having empowered farmers and their veterinary advisers is very good for disease control. Farmers are quite good at disease control when they think they're in control, and they haven't felt like this for a long time with bovine TB. Anything that you can do to make farmers think that this is part of their responsibilities for farming, rather than being something that resides with Government or Government agencies, has to be a good thing. That long-term change, obviously, is hard to effect or you would have done it already. But I think we need to think very carefully about any measure that we introduce and the impact that it might have on empowerment of farmers. Thank you.
Thank you very much, James. Thank you, everyone, and that concludes my questioning, Chair.
Thank you very much indeed, Vikki. I'm afraid we are over time, so our session has now come to an end. Can I take this opportunity to thank you for being with us this morning? It's been very useful to hear from you and it will be very useful for us, therefore, to scrutinise the Welsh Government policy on this matter. A transcript of today's proceedings will be sent to you in due course. If there are any issues with that, then please let us know, but, once again, thank you very much indeed for being with us today. We'll now take a short break just to prepare for the next session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:39 a 10:45.
The meeting adjourned between 10:39 a 10:45.
Croeso nôl i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 4 ar ein hagenda. Dyma ail sesiwn banel y pwyllgor i graffu ar gynigion Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer rhaglen newydd i ddileu TB buchol. Yn y sesiwn hon, rŷm ni'n cymryd tystiolaeth gan undebau ffermio. Gwahoddwyd RSPCA Cymru hefyd i ymuno â'r panel hwn, ond yn anffodus doedden nhw ddim yn gallu bod yn bresennol heddiw, ond rŷm ni'n ddiolchgar iddynt am ddarparu briff ysgrifenedig i'r pwyllgor. Felly, gaf i ofyn i'r tystion i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record, ac wedyn gallwn symud yn syth i gwestiynau? Felly, a allaf i ddechrau gyda Roger Lewis?
Welcome back to this meeting of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. We will move on now to item 4 on our agenda. This is the second panel session to scrutinise the Welsh Government's proposals for a refreshed bovine TB eradication programme. In this session, we're taking evidence from the farming unions. RSPCA Cymru were also invited to join this panel, but unfortunately they were unable to attend today, but we are grateful to them for providing the committee with a written brief. So, may I ask our witnesses to introduce themselves for the record, and then we will move immediately to questions? So, could we start with Roger Lewis?
Well, good morning, committee. Thank you for this opportunity to provide some evidence to your inquiry into the TB consultation. As I said, my name is Roger Lewis. I'm a dairy farmer from Pembrokeshire. I'm in the heart of the real hotspot here in Wales with regard to TB. I'm currently Pembrokeshire National Farmers Union county chairman, but I also chair NFU Cymru's TB focus group, which was set up last summer with the remit of looking at TB in as much depth as we possibly could. Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Roger. Ac Elin Jenkins.
Thank you very much, Roger. And Elin Jenkins.
Bore da. I'm here in place of Hazel Wright, who is a senior policy officer with the Farmers Union of Wales. Unfortunately, she's been struck down with COVID, and at the last minute I've had to take the reins, so apologies if my information is not forthcoming, and if there's anything extra you need, I'll be more than happy to write you an e-mail in response. So, I am a policy officer, and I work with the Farmers Union of Wales.
Thank you, both, for those introductions. Perhaps I can kick off this session just with a few questions. Just a general question, first of all: do you believe that the Welsh Government's proposals to expand pre-movement and post-movement testing are proportionate and appropriate? Perhaps I can start with Roger.
Thank you, Mr Chairman. Yes, we, as a union, firmly believe that it is absolutely vital that the pre- and post-movement structure is strong and robust. I think we're definitely behind the reintroduction of pre-movement testing in the low-incidence areas, to try to stop further transmission between herds there.
Post-movement testing is a little bit more of a divisive question when we look at it within the membership. Obviously, you've got 95 per cent of the herds within Wales that are clear at any one time, and it should be our priority to keep them clear, but the reality is that post-movement testing isn't that practical, particularly from a dairy cow standpoint. For post movement to work, animals would have to be isolated on the new farm before they incurred that post-movement test. Now, this could be anything up to nearly 60 days, which is fairly impractical. But we see it work in other countries—particularly Scotland—so I suppose it's something we've got to look at, going forward. I think probably of more relevance is the actual test that we use for that pre movement, and perhaps I'll have a chance to talk on that in a minute, perhaps after Elin has spoken.
I think the issue we've had with this one is the lack of real epidemiology evidence in supporting the need for this, and how effective or cost-effective it is, and how much influence these tests are going to have on eradicating TB in Wales, or at least keeping TB out of the low-incidence areas of Wales. As we've seen, that's been failing us lately as well, in the low areas of north-east Wales. There's also the point that the cost of implementing this extra testing—pre and post testing—is suggested to be given or put on the shoulders of the industry, and obviously, with increasing testing, there are other increases, of labour and the health and safety risk of testing these animals. There's also the effect that, with increased testing, there's naturally going to be an increase of false positives. These false positives could be enough to skew results of recorded TB incidence, which could change those high-risk and intermediate and low-risk areas. How is that going to be accommodated for, or looked at?
Members did note the merits of pre- and post-movement testing, don't get me wrong, as I said before, in keeping disease out of areas, and it must also be noted that, despite the risk areas, there are holdings as well that have not suffered breakdowns that are held within high-risk areas. So, you could have—I can see you nodding—an area, a farm in a high-risk area, that has never been affected by TB. Yes, that's all I've got there.
Okay, thanks. And do you both think that the farm-level risk scores should be used to determine testing requirements, and, if so, what could be used to indicate risk, in your view? Roger.
Thank you, Mr Chairman. Perhaps before we go on to that, could I just perhaps talk a little bit more about the tests on the table, because I think that's absolutely critical when it comes to the pre-movement change? At the moment, the current test is the skin test, read under standard interpretation, which is well documented to miss possibly three to four in 10 positive cases. That in itself is quite worrying, because when you're talking of a pre-movement test to move animals from herd to herd, you can see where a lot of the issues, particularly that we're seeing in north Wales at the moment, are arising. So, we've got to be looking at a different test, possibly, and certainly within the focus group we've run this past our members in quite a lot of depth.
So, what options have we got? Well, yes, we could move to a blood test. Well, the obvious one there would be gamma testing. Let's put that into perspective: we're going down a more specific route, but the reality is we're going to have a lot more false positives. Personal experience: I gamma tested 350 cows a fortnight ago. The reality is that we had 31 positives off that gamma test. The figures will say that four in 100 gamma tests are false positives, so that would mean, using those sorts of figures, out of those 31 here a fortnight ago, nearly half were false positives—animals that would have left the farm here that possibly didn't have TB. So, you can see the problems we're running into here with gamma.
Then we've got the other, antibody test that's available here at the moment here in Wales, and that's the IDEXX test, looking for antibody levels. That in itself would require a skin test to prime it to be used. So, whilst the idea of taking one blood, rather than two days of crush and race-handling for cows, would sound good, an IDEXX would actually require three handlings of an animal to get a decent result there.
So, we come back to our skin test, and one of the things that I think we could possibly look at here within Wales is making that skin test more robust by reading it under severe interpretation. This immediately would make it more sensitive. It's also very, very doable, because the test is already taking place. It would be quite a quick change if Welsh Government and APHA decided to go down this route. It's something they could invoke next Tuesday; it isn't something that would require huge change to policy and the logistics. And the logistics are really, really important in this, because whilst a majority of pre-movement tests or all pre-movement tests are done by a private vet, we have big issues within the veterinary profession here in Wales, particularly in west Wales. Sourcing good vets and keeping them is an absolute challenge, and if we go down the route of more and more tests with regard to pre movement, it is going to be a real logistical challenge for that.
One other option with regards to, perhaps, stopping high-risk animals moving from herd to herd—and that, ultimately, is what pre-movement testing is about—and that is using data that would have been built up over a period of time of the animals' testing history to identify these high-risk animals. Now, along with my private vet, we've analysed our data on two occasions to identify high-risk animals. We've found them and we sort of traffic-light identify them. Now, by doing this, in itself, I've got a good handle on the most high-risk animals in my herd. And I think it's something that, perhaps, as an industry, we should be doing more, and that's analysing the data of all the tests that have already gone by in the past. Animals in fourth, fifth lactation have possibly been tested as many as nine, 10, 11 times. So, there might be patterns within that. And the pattern that we'd be looking for is—. An animal can become a standard inconclusive reactor on the skin test, but it can, very often, the next test, become a clear animal. And that can happen quite regularly, but the reality is, once an IR, that animal is quite high risk, so we'd have to be really clear that that animal could pose a threat in a future movement. So, it's using data and analysing that data, and I think there's great merit in that.
Finally, I suppose the belt-and-braces approach to pre-movement testing would be a test that we'd have to conduct to export animals, and that is the bovine-only injection, which, ultimately, any reaction on that, would flag that animal up as an issue. So, there are plenty of options out there, but I think, probably, without having to make too many huge jumps at this point, the current skin tests, read under severe interpretation, could be a route forward.
Just to answer your question, Mr Chairman, with regard to the high-risk level farm scores, I think we've got to be really, really careful here in that we don't cast every farm within an area as a high risk, particularly here in Pembrokeshire. And whilst there are huge numbers of farms under restriction, there are some farms that have never had TB. So, I suppose, from that point of view, this sort of system would actually help those. I think what it doesn't help are the farms that have this disease embedded within their herd, and periodically might go clear of the disease. I think that could create real problems with selling animals, and I'm sure we'll come on to that further in the questioning.
Thank you, Roger. Elin.
Yes, with regard to the farm-level risk scores, then, I think, along with several other proposals in the consultation, this is one that really needs to be discussed and thrashed out on industry level and with Welsh Government and everybody in between. The danger of this is, really, as Mr Lewis said, black marking or putting farmers that are situated in a high-risk area but have no risk due to no TB prevalence on their farm—. There is the complication of how many criteria are taken into account. The risk scoring needs to be so that it's not too crude to be useful or too complex to be useable; it needs to be something that can be quite easily interpreted, then. Yes.
Okay. Thanks. And just one final question from me: do you both support trained lay testers to carry out skin and blood tests, or do you believe a vet is actually required to carry out these tests? Elin.
Well, I think, in principle—. In principle, yes, I think we would support that incentive, then. But there is that need for farmers—. If they are facing a breakdown, a herd breakdown, they very often need the expertise and knowledge of that vet, and their personal private vet, then, to talk out the next steps, to go through what happens in the breakdown. If there are going to be trained technical personnel to do the TB test—the skin test, I'm assuming—the level of training they get must be equivalent to that of the vets, and their knowledge has to be right up there with it.
I can perceive this as being a sort of cost-saving exercise as well. So, with the money saved from placing non-vets on farm to do the TB skin test, that money saved, at the expense of knowledge on farm for farmers, needs to be—. Farmers need to have, or industry needs to have, a say on where that is going to be spent.
Okay, thanks. And Roger.
Thank you, Mr Chairman. Yes, I agree with most of what Elin has said there. I think the key thing about introducing lay testers more prevalently would be to release that vet time. There is nobody who understands a breakdown situation better than their private vet. Obviously, we have quite a lot of dialogue with APHA vets at the point of a breakdown, and it's a frustration of mine that the private vet's knowledge of that farmer and the system and the animals involved isn't always recognised. So, at the end of the day, I've already alluded to the huge demand on their time, so I think this would definitely be a way of releasing that expertise of that private vet.
Thanks. I now bring in Sam Kurtz to ask a few questions. Sam.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel. Roger, you've gone into some detailed analysis there with regard to testing and testing regimes and sensitivity and that was the line of questioning that I was going to go into. But could I ask a little further whether, Elin, you've anything to add to what Roger's said initially on testing and test sensitivity?
Yes. I'd like to state that I'm no scientist in terms of knowing the detail of the testing, and I think I did hear a little bit of Professor Glyn Hewinson speak previously and he did explain pretty it well, and the trade-off between sensitivity and specificity, as mentioned by the professor, and the use of gamma. Now, gamma, I believe, was approved by the European Commission over 20 years ago as ancillary to the skin test, so they need to be worked together. The blanket use of gamma, as said by Roger, will kick up 3.5 per cent false positives in TB-free animals. So, that brings up, again, another issue of compensation payment and the bill for that, which I'm sure we'll come to later on. But if Welsh Government wants to save on compensation bills, then, really, the way to look at it is to reduce your animals removed on farm. Putting a test in place with a 3.5 per cent false positive rate is not going to help that situation. Again, I don't think there's any evidence or scientific analysis or impact assessment that's been made on using the gamma test as a blanket in Wales, nor anywhere else, in an eradication programme across the world. Thank you.
Okay. Diolch, Elin. Roger, just moving on with regard to the impact of a potential increase in false positives and also the influence of false negatives with regard to keeping a TB-positive cow within the herd that continues to reinfect, that isn't being picked up—. With regard to the specificity changes that you suggest i.e. the severe interpretation through the skin test, what do you think the impact could be there?
The reality is that we're going to see more animals leave farm, and this is the trade-off we've got, I suppose. There are two elements to this. I very much focused on the pre-movement use of these tests, but the use of the blood test and perhaps further tests that possibly will come online in the future, is about trying to rid residual disease out of herds, and it all boils down to, I suppose, whether Welsh Government and farmers have the appetite to remove this residual disease from our herds.
We've just gone through an epidemic, or are just coming out of it, and there are a couple of terms that have really flagged up with me during that time, and one of them would be an 'R number'. And my R number at the moment would be fairly high. It's sad to say that, but that's the reality of it. We could look at R numbers on a herd basis, on a parish basis, a county basis, or even on a Wales basis, and the key is that we've got to drive that down somehow. So, I suppose using more sensitive tests would achieve that. The trade-off obviously is going to mean that herds are going to be under restriction for longer, more animals are going to be removed, and pressure is going to be put on the compensation budget. But the reality is—. We as farmers have had a lot of dialogue over the last six months, and I want to thank Welsh Government and the CVO and a lot of people within the industry who've taken time to speak with the TB focus group within NFU Cymru, and we've been very realistic in what we've tried to achieve. We want to try to improve the situation here in Wales. The reality is that a lot of our work, and a lot of the discussions we have, are put under threat by the compensation argument, and I know we're going to come on to that, but, by removing more animals, the reality is that more compensation will be paid out.
Thank you, Roger. Elin, anything to add?
Nothing to add there.
No. Diolch. Just finally—and you mentioned the R number, Roger, and that was mentioned by the academics previously, so, obviously, there is a continuity in thought process there amongst the industry and the academics, which is pleasing to see. But one question that I couldn't squeeze in to the academics was around compensation for those tests that aren't currently approved by Welsh Government. Is there a case to expand the compensation or expand the list of approved tests, allowing those farmers who I know who are using Enferplex, for example, which doesn't qualify for compensation—? Is there an argument to increase the width of that, allowing farmers to use more tools available to them for their specific needs? Roger.
Thank you, Sam. Well, I think there's an obvious answer to that, and that is 'yes'. And let's not forget that farmers who decide to go down the Enferplex route are doing so because what they've already tried isn't working. Unfortunately, only two days ago, we saw a whole herd depopulated here in Pembrokeshire, and the reality of that is that, after three years of a breakdown, they no longer have any animals left on the farm. Now, we don't want to see that being commonplace across Wales, so any test that can identify that residual disease and take it out at the earliest possible timing, we absolutely want to see. But it has to be backed up with a compensation regime, just like it is for the gamma, IDEXX or the skin test, because that farmer cannot take that financial hit alone, because he is trying to be proactive and trying to get that disease out from his herd that's been embedded in his herd for whatever reason.
Thank you. Elin.
Yes, I think there's a lot of behaviour of punishment around, or penalties around, the eradication programme. There isn't enough emphasis on rewarding good behaviour and, really, every farmer who is trying their best, which they are—rewarding the benefits seen, then.
Thank you, panel. Chair.
Thanks, Sam. I now bring in Sarah Murphy to ask a few questions. Sarah.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you, both, for being here today. I'm going to ask some questions around informed purchasing. I'm going to start with a question to you, Roger, because NFU have said about the two-tier market, that informed purchasing could establish this with the proposed system. So, could you expand a little bit on that and what's in the written evidence? And I'd also relate to earlier on, when we heard from the panel that some would argue that there is already a two-tier system, and what you would say in response to that, please.
Thank you. Yes, well, I think that is our reservation about informed purchasing, that we will create a two-tier system. Because if we have a situation at the point of sale where a lot of information is divulged to the buyer, they've got to make a decision, and it'll be risk based, and that's exactly why we're thinking, or Welsh Government is thinking, to bring it in. But the reality is that, in virtually all cases, when animals get the point of sale, they do find a home. So, this is where we're coming from with regards to the two-tier market, that animals that are deemed as high risk will have a lower value. And then we've got to ask ourselves, I suppose, then: what have we achieved that day by having that information at the point of sale? Because if every animal has moved from one home into another, nothing has been achieved. So, this is where we have reservations over that. However, as I said earlier, 95 per cent of herds in Wales are clear, and I know there is an appetite from a large number of buyers to have that information available. The key to it is that it is simple to access, it's accurate, and that farmers can make quite a quick decision, because not every farmer is going to go to a sale having done their homework to see which animals are on his shopping list and are low risk. So, you can imagine the sorts of things that have got to go through his mind. These animals are coming through the ring every minute; it's really difficult. On top of which, in a normal situation, he'd be going there to actually buy that animal on its credentials rather than its TB status. So, this is the issue we've got, but there would have to be some way of getting a very robust system for that to work.
In my own patch, in Pembrokeshire, I know we're very much against this, because, obviously, being a TB hotspot, we're already renowned for that. But if, for instance, in two years' time, I'm fortunate to get clear of TB and I've got surplus animals, which is often the case with a TB breakdown, is it fair that I should be further penalised at the point of sale when I'm actually bringing animals there that will have been tested time and time again over the last three years, that have got no TB history? Should I be penalised at that point? It's a further economic and financial penalty on top of what we would have already experienced.
Thank you so much. That's really helpful, Roger. Elin, do you want to add anything to that?
Yes, going back to the actual classification and what criteria go into that classification, for example, you can get two herds with the same risk score and they may have completely different TB histories. So, you can have farm A with a score of 3, which has a TB history that encompasses several previous long-term breakdowns, with numerous reactors, lesions, IRs and positive cultures. You can have another farm with the same score that may have none of the above and still be—. Obviously, the two animals would be penalised for that, wouldn't they, from those different farms.
There's already a misconception from buyers from devolved countries that because our herds are annually tested, they assume that they're all from high-risk areas, because they are on different testing regimes. Some of them are even on a four-year regime.
There have also been comments made from our members in that informed purchasing, if it's not applied across the UK and if it's not applied, for instance, in English markets, people in Wales will be sending their animals to England to be sold because there won't be that necessary requirement for mandatory information shown at sale. So, that is risking our livestock markets in Wales.
Thank you so much. Both of your unions have argued that to move to classify herds, as well, as high risk could devalue the cattle, which I know you both touched on here. RSPCA Cymru couldn't be here today, but I think it's relevant to say that they stated high-risk cattle could still have an open market if effective steps are taken, such as higher sensitivity tests, to ensure buyer confidence. So, what is your response to this? I'll come to you first, Elin, please.
Basically, I think that farmers are losing confidence in the test. They can't be sure of that confidence in the test to be buying an animal on it, to a degree.
Yes, Roger, thank you.
Thank you, Sarah. The problem is that a high-risk animal will probably have gone through more testing than a low-risk animal to get to the point of sale. Let's remember that we can't sell an animal unless we're TB free. Again, I'll use my own experience: after and, hopefully, at a point in the future when we can sell, in theory, the animals that I would be selling will have gone through a testing regime that has shown that they are low-risk animals. This is why I come back to a theory that I think is more robust than informed purchasing, and that is actually removing the ability of high-risk animals to actually ever reach the point of sale. And this isn't necessarily an NFU standpoint; it's something that the veterinary profession and several farmers have been thinking about, and I alluded to it earlier. You need to pick a threshold. So, for instance, if you picked the threshold of a standard IR, if an animal ever becomes a standard IR, it should possibly stay on that farm for the rest of its life until it's slaughtered.
So, how would you achieve this? Well, you would remove the passport the day that that animal becomes a standard IR. That way, that farmer can never sell that animal when he goes clear, because you need the passport to go with the animal to the point of sale. And what this does, basically, it removes the highest risk animals that are left on farm, post clearing test, from ever going to a market. Then this removes the need for informed purchasing in my view and the complex system that would be required, and the goodwill of farmers to use it then at the point of sale. Because, as I've said earlier, every animal normally gets to the sale ring and finds a home, and if that is the case, we've achieved nothing with informed purchasing. But if we could find a way of identifying the highest risk animals—and the obvious starting point would be a standard IR that has possibly gone clear, and it might have become IR again and gone clear—if that animal can never be sold, going forward, that would be a real step forward.
There are issues with this, and the obvious issue would be, say, a dispersal sale of a herd. A farmer might get clear of TB and decide that he wants to disperse his whole herd. In this situation, he might find that, over the history of his herd, perhaps 25 per cent of those animals have been IR at some point, but now they're sellable because they've gone clear on a clearing test. This is where Welsh Government have to be sensible in the way that they treat that farmer so that that farmer could still disperse his herd, but those risk animals wouldn't go to the dispersal herd; they would be slaughtered at this point. And some way of topping up that cull-value compensation would be far, far more proactive, because that herd-dispersal sale, potentially, could spread disease around several other herds following that herd dispersal. You could have all the information with risk-based trading all over the screens above the buyers, but ultimately they would still buy those animals at a price.
Thank you very much. And my final question is about EID Cymru and the database. Do you think that this could be used to support informed purchasing and how? And what do you see the pros and cons being? Also, I think it's crucial just to ask because I know, particularly NFU, you've said that Welsh Government should wait for the database to be done before moving ahead with any of these. So, if you could just give us some insight into why you think that and what should be done in the meantime I suppose, and if I come to you first, Roger.
Thank you. Yes, I think it's quite exciting—EID Cymru. If we're moving away from BCMS, which I found to be a very, very good portal, and if we're going to move to EID Cymru, I think the potential for this is huge, and not just as a database for the actual animals' ID and movement history et cetera, but for health statuses. And, obviously, TB falls into that. Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, bovine viral diarrhoea and a lot of other diseases need to be, sort of, bolted on to this. And the key thing is that this software is set up at the start to be able to cope with all of this. All too often we have systems built that then we're told can't cope with this change or you've got to start from scratch. So, this is where we're coming from. EID Cymru must be compatible from day one with all this information. Even if it's actually not used on day one, it needs to have the ability to cope with this process. And yes, it is the obvious portal for this sort of information to come from.
Fantastic, thank you. And Elin, finally.
Just to add to that, I think it's important that there's cross-border communication between the Welsh, the English, the Scottish and the Irish versions of EID Cymru, then.
Wonderful. Thank you, both, very much. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Sarah. I'll now bring in Luke Fletcher to ask a few questions. Luke.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I have a couple of questions on the compensation payments, and we have touched on this already throughout today's session. But, of course, if you'd like to add anything additional, then please do. I thought I'd kick off by asking if you could tell us what your preferred compensation system would be and why. Shall I start with Roger and then move to Elin?
Thank you very much. Well, the preferred compensation payment is the stand-on. And, quite simply put, even Welsh Government acknowledge that the TB payment system should provide a fair and proportionate TB payment to the farmer when an animal is removed from that farm. And the reality of that is that a tabular valuation system would not apply that. You would have no way of distinguishing the animal's genetic merit, size, stage of gestation, milk yield—all of these things that a trained valuer is tasked with when they come to value those animals. And we as a farming union—. I've heard 'red lines' being used on numerous occasions, and unfortunately this is a red line for us. All the good work that we've had with Welsh Government and all the stakeholders would be put in jeopardy if the compensation regime that is in place at the moment is changed.
And let's give you an example of my own situation. I've got 47 cows in a shed at the moment isolating from the rest of my herd that were shown as positive on the bloods, as I referred to earlier. They've been there for two and a half weeks waiting for removal. They're going to be valued tomorrow afternoon. Every day, I am losing nearly £600-worth of milk that I'm having to pour away because they are classified as reactors, following the blood test. On top of that, I'm feeding them £100-worth of concentrate per day. That doesn't include all of the forage that I've got to give them, the labour, the time, the distress of seeing those animals day in, day out. None of these costs don't even go near it with any compensation. You are compensating me for the animal that's being removed. The consequential loss is absolutely massive. So, to move to a system that will overvalue, and undervalue—let's not forget that—going forward, would be devastating for this industry. So, our preferred compensation payment regime is the one that is in place now, where a valuer, a trained professional, comes along and gives a value for that individual animal.
Thank you, Roger, and thank you for sharing your own personal example as well. It's much appreciated. Elin, did you have anything you wanted to add there?
Yes, I completely agree, and I'd like to sympathise with Mr Lewis's situation. It's heartbreaking—absolutely heartbreaking. The FUW took the similar stance of rejecting all compensation systems proposed in the consultation. We support, as Mr Lewis said, a fair value, as is being done now. The current valuation regime, which utilises an independent industry expert to produce valuations is far fairer than the proposed tabular system. But, having said this, as Mr Lewis alluded to, the current compensation system is far from perfect, with no compensation given for lost revenue, loss of milk production, loss of breeding lines, and so on.
There has been research by the University of Exeter, more than a decade ago, so you can appreciate that these costings have gone up significantly, especially in the last three or four months. The research found that monthly loss due to bovine TB breakdown varies considerably from just under £500 to over £3,000, while the cost of movement restrictions can vary from £3,000 up to £55,000 per farm. I'd also like to add as well that the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution's 'The Big Farming Survey' in 2020 reported that 31 per cent of farming communities cited that financial pressures are one of the biggest causes of stress in our farming communities. So, the compensation paid for animals for their compulsory removal due to TB breakdown is around £7 million. I just want to point out as well that £15 million—just under half of the total £32 million expenditure available—is spent on TB programme planning, which includes the testing, the eradication programme delivery, and so on. I think Welsh Government really need to streamline other areas of this eradication programme before going to the compensation system.
Another point as well, the Auditor General for Wales in 2003 reported,
'it is the law that farmers should be compensated for cattle slaughtered because of tuberculosis to the extent of the market value of the animal.'
As Roger, Mr Lewis, said earlier, the tabular system doesn't give the true value of the animal, full stop.
Diolch am hynny, Elin.
Thank you for that, Elin.
The Welsh Government has said that the current system is unsustainable. We established earlier that with increased testing, you're going to be finding more cattle that have tested positive for TB, which, in turn, will mean that more compensation is needed. So, if you do have any additional comments on the Welsh Government saying that the current system is unsustainable, they would be welcome and please do add them, but I was also wondering whether you think expenditure could be reduced in any other element of the TB eradication programme, apart from the compensation system. Again, shall I start with Roger and then move to Elin?
Thank you, Luke. What we really need is a comprehensive eradication programme, and we've not raised it all here today. In the TB focus group, I was keen to keep my life out of all the work that we did, but it's very difficult to keep it out of the discussion when it is a fundamental part of the problem. And, here in Wales, we have a Government that is the only Government in the whole of the world that feels that it can eradicate bovine TB just by tackling the disease within the bovine population. And as hard as that might be for many people to hear, it is a reality that there is a source of infection within the wildlife that live in our countryside. So, by having a more robust and comprehensive eradication policy, I think, in the long term, whilst definitely in the short term there would be a higher cost, in the long term it would be money well spent.
The only other place that frustrates me as a working farmer is with regard to the salvage value of the animals that leave farms. Now, at the moment, cow values are at a record high of £4 a kilo—never seen it before. I'm really concerned that possibly Welsh Government aren't actually getting the true value for the animals that leave my farm, because they should be getting the same value for that animal as if I'd put them on the lorry and sold them to the slaughterhouse. But, as we know, in so much of today's life, there is always potential here for losses. So, it would be key for me to make sure that Welsh Government is retrieving as much value out of those animals that are leaving farms up and down the country, that salvage value, the haulage costs, the slaughter costs. All of these are in line with what we as an industry have, and I really do worry about that. I think somebody could possibly be employed to purely look at this to make sure that they're getting best value when they're bringing these animals to slaughter.
Diolch, Roger. Elin.
Yes. So, basically, compensation is expensive because the number of cattle being killed and removed is so high. If the eradication programme was working, the compensation budget would obviously go down. That one is pretty simple, isn't it? The number of cows removed is consistently over 10,000 head a year, and that's been shown for the past five years. There's no indication of decline in that, and that number will not decline if we're introducing more testing. So, the most effective mechanism by which to reduce the compensation costs to the Welsh Government is to reduce the number of animals slaughtered, obviously, and this cannot be achieved without a holistic approach, involving the wildlife vector, where the vector exists. We accept it doesn't exist in wildlife everywhere. We have the science to find it and address TB in wildlife where it is there, and it's known that TB is transmitted between wildlife and cattle.
Diolch, Elin. My final question relates to how we incentivise and disincentivise certain behaviours. We touched on this in the last panel. I was just wondering if you could share your views on how behaviours that are detrimental to disease control could be disincentivised. Again, I'll stick with Roger and then go to Elin, if that's okay.
Thank you. I think we took great umbrage with regard to this part of the Minister's presentation back in November. A blame game is no good for anybody, and unfortunately that's how it comes across when you're asked questions like this. I've been part of a TB task and finish group of all stakeholders, set up by Welsh Government, over the last two months, and it's been very interesting talking to APHA officials, in that actually a very, very small number of actual farmers are the ones that are these that are problem ones. But, there are already things in the regime to cope with these. There are rigorous cross-compliance inspections, there are veterinary notices to improve, and also of course we've got that 50 per cent compensation payment if animals are bought and they subsequently go down with TB on the new holding.
So, we've got to remember that TB is such a complex issue. This hour session here doesn't give it justice whatsoever. Our two months up in Aberystwyth in four meetings doesn't give it actual justice. We've even got parts of Wales where the vets don't fully understand the policy there because they're not in it day in, day out. My vet lives and breathes it because it's all he has to cope with. I've learnt a huge amount over the last nine months, talking to stakeholders. But, really, it's very difficult to expect a farmer to understand the policy inside out. There are going to be mistakes made, unfortunately, and this is where a better communication strategy between APHA, the private vet and the farmer would have such a fantastic result, I think, going forward.
Thank you, Roger. Elin, anything to add there?
Can I go back to your previous question as well, about savings?
Yes, of course.
Sorry. The point I wanted to make was I've got a few figures here to show how including the wildlife in an eradication programme would help the cost of this eradication programme. There was evidence provided to John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainability, by his own department, that showed a cull of badgers in the north Pembrokeshire intensive action area would have cost an estimated £4,990,000 but would have led to a saving of £5,021,090. By comparison, the vaccination policy adopted by Welsh Government was estimated to cost £5,760,000, but would only have led to a saving of £2,304,000, meaning a net cost to taxpayers of £3,456,000. So, just in summary—. There are a lot of numbers there, so, just in summary, a saving of approximately £5,000,000 would have been made if the targeted badger cull was pursued in the IAA in north Pembrokeshire. In reality, the badger vaccination route was pursued by Welsh Government, and that cost the taxpayer approximately £3.5 million. That's to just give you what we're looking at in terms of cost.
With the behaviours, I'd like to ask you what behaviours are exactly meant to be disincentivised. I believe that our farmers are doing their utmost to comply with the rules and regulations of TB eradication. I completely agree with what Mr Lewis said about the interaction with the vet and the APHA vets—ministry vets, then—but what behaviours do you see that need to be disincentivised?
Well, I'm going by what the Minister has said here. I'm just seeing what you see as the Minister's views on that, whether you agree with those views or whether you do not.
Well, there is a lot of—. I think, in this task and finish group, we discussed a lot about a bad relationship of blame, and 'They say this, and we say that.' We need to be attacking this disease as one front, don't we, and I think both sides of this relationship need to come together, to work together, and listen and learn from each other's experiences.
For the record, I do agree with the position that Roger laid out as well, but thank you for those answers. Much appreciated. But I'll pass back to you now, Cadeirydd.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Luke. If I can now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.
Thank you very much, Chair. Good morning—I had to check the time there—good morning, panel; still just in the morning.
I just wanted to ask some questions about other countries and the way that they deal with this very difficult problem of TB in cattle, and whether you think there are things that we could be looking to learn from those other nations. So, maybe if I start with Roger on that.
Thank you for your question there. Well, where do we start worldwide? There are two obvious ones where I think that I, as a dairy farmer, would have the confidence in looking and using, and the first would be New Zealand. New Zealand had a very comprehensive approach to their eradication policy. One of them would be more sensitive testing, and this is quite prevalent across the world; we've touched on that earlier in our discussion. I suppose it's what we want to achieve, what we want to find, because I think that's probably in the back of the mind of Welsh Government: if we go into a more invasive, sensitive testing regime, how much TB are we going to find within our herds? And that's a major issue for them, it's a major issue for the industry, because what we've perhaps not covered enough here today is that, whilst we can do all the tests in the world to remove disease and residual disease from herds, those herds have got to keep being viable businesses, because for every animal that becomes a reactor, herd productivity is cut short. Herd life or productivity, whether it be producing milk or meat, is cut short, and that's not good for the agricultural industry and it's not good for Wales's economy all around.
Governance would be something that some countries have probably gone down the road of, this far more joint approach between the industry and Government, and possibly more responsibility being passed on to the industry. But we've got to remember there's a caveat to this, isn't there? In those situations, those farmers, those groups of farmers, have had the ability to control all the issues surrounding the disease. And I don't mean to spell it out again, but the obvious one is with regard to wildlife. So, you can't expect an industry to take more governance, more responsibility for the disease, when one hand is tied behind its back.
We've got other things that possibly we should be looking at. Badger vaccination is certainly one. We get the message from Welsh Government with regards to culling here in Wales, but what I struggle with, and I think the farmer who was depopulated the other day will struggle with, is that he potentially could restock his farm in a period of time, but he doesn't know, I don't know, farmers with persistent breakdowns don't know, the level of disease that is out there within the wildlife. And the absolute minimum Welsh Government should be doing is finding a policy whereby we can establish the level of disease in the wildlife. The badger found dead survey is one way of doing it, but it is not comprehensive enough. And I think they're missing a trick here, because if you had a farm, a persistent breakdown farm, and you could prove to that farmer that, actually, the wildlife on his farm are clean, or have very low levels of TB, I think that the attitude of that farmer would change, because he would know that the actual problem is embedded within his herd, and the way he approaches future testing would change. So, whilst they don't want to find the answers in the wildlife, I think it would actually be proactive in some cases—
Can I just interject there, Roger, because that's such an important point?
Are there any countries that we can learn from with regard to actually finding accurate levels of TB in wildlife?
Well, I'm not the scientist, and probably the guys you've just spoken to recently would have given you a better answer on that. But there are ways that we can do that here and now. I've had discussions with somebody in the veterinary profession, who, with even just a simple paw prick, taking a small, tiny, minute amount of blood—that isn't invasive to the badger population at all—could give them enough evidence to base what I'm talking around. Or you could go down the route of taking faeces, taking samples from latrines. All of this would give you a far better picture of the TB reservoir that could be held within the wildlife.
And I think it's only fair that farmers know what's out there. We graze our cows for seven months of the year. On our land, we play host to a badger population, but my business is producing milk, as a dairy farmer, and I shouldn't have to worry that turning 300 cows into a field is possibly going to cripple my business, as it has that one farmer here in Pembrokeshire. So, at the very least, we need to know what reservoir of disease is there, and, if so, we should be looking at badger vaccination as a way of perhaps mitigating that disease. The scientists will tell you that there's quite a quick way of getting herd immunity within that population without having to actually vaccinate that whole population. The problem in Wales, here, is that we've got such a huge population of badgers that vaccination becomes uneconomical. So, it's very difficult to find the answer to this. But, at the very least, we need to know what levels of infection are out there.
And the final thing, then, and I'd probably look at England here—some of the advice that they receive in England I think is far superior to what we have here in Wales. We have a disease report form visit or a discussion with a vet post breakdown. We have a Cymorth TB visit with our private vet, who looks at the whole holistic approach on the farm of the actual disease and how it perhaps got into the herd. But TBAS, the TB Advisory Service in England, is very well respected, and they offer valuable advice to farmers on ways they can perhaps mitigate the chance of this disease becoming embedded within their herd. So, something like that would be very valuable. And that's about it, I think.
Thank you, Roger. I've been busy making notes—there are some good areas for us to follow up on there. So, Elin, your views, please.
The one that came to me was New Zealand and their animal health board. That's already been mentioned quite a few times, I think, before the break and by Mr Lewis. What I can see there is that they were given autonomy over the TB policy in New Zealand—as in industry was given autonomy over the TB policy. And similar to Wales, New Zealand did have a wildlife vector of TB, which was the possum. Their eradication programme had a three-pronged attack, which was: test and slaughter; movement and control, which, to be fair, Welsh Government are throwing the kitchen sink at in those two categories; and the third was the wildlife control. It's similar to the analogy of the three-legged stool—without the third leg, the stool will never work, and I think there's a similar thing going on here. So, the New Zealand animal health board implemented a national pest management programme that dealt with TB in wildlife, and they saw a 90 per cent reduction in TB herd infections over a period of 12 years. So, that just says a lot, doesn't it? I think anybody in Wales would love to see a 90 per cent reduction by the middle of 2030, then.
I think it's important to note as well that we can't just cherry-pick policies from every other place. That policy there in New Zealand worked as a whole, as an entity, you know. Those three policies work together interactively, and you can't just take two and expect it to work without the third. Also, looking over the sea to Northern Ireland, I think just in March recently, last month, they launched a new long-term bovine TB eradication strategy, which also included targeted interventions with wildlife in Ireland, so it will be quite interesting to see what comes of that as well.
Could I just add one other thing as well? As a farmer, the real frustration for me and my fellow farmers is the lack of understanding on how this disease is transmitted. By that, I mean transmission between bovines, between wildlife and bovines, and within the wildlife population as well. I find it amazing, here in 2022, that we've not got concrete science on that. You spoke to Professor Glyn Hewinson earlier, and the facility—I don't whether any of you have been lucky enough to see it—in Aberystwyth I had the pleasure of visiting only a month ago, the TB centre of excellence there. We have a facility here in Wales now that pretty much could do anything, and I think the key to a lot of policy, going forward, is that they're encouraged to do as much research work as they possibly can to find the answers to some of these really, really difficult questions.
Thank you very much. Thank you, both. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Vikki. I'm afraid time has beaten us, so our session has now come to an end, but on behalf of the committee, can I thank you both for giving up your time this morning? It's been very useful to hear your evidence. A transcript of today's proceedings will be sent to you for accuracy purposes in due course, so if there are any issues, then please let us know. But once again, thank you very much indeed for being with us today.
Mr Chairman, could I just add one thing there? I'd be very, very pleased to welcome you as a committee to the farm if you felt it would be of any use to yourselves. The invitation is there. It would be far easier to talk about a lot of the issues that we've talked about here today with you able to actually see what's in front of you. You're very, very welcome to take me up on that, if you wish to.
Thank you very much indeed for that offer, Roger, and we will, I'm sure, discuss that, but thank you very much indeed for that.
Thank you very much. Bye.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 5 ar ein hagenda. Dwi'n cynnig yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42 fod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitem 6. A yw Aelodau yn fodlon? Ydyn. Dwi'n gweld bod Aelodau yn fodlon, felly derbyniwyd y cynnig ac fe symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i'r sesiwn breifat.
We'll move on, therefore, to item 5 on our agenda. I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to exclude the public from item 6. Are Members content? Yes. I see that Members are content, therefore the motion is agreed and we will now move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:48.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:48.