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PLAN TO TACKLE TB

Steve Dube, The Western Mail

NEW ways to tackle TB in cattle will be outlined at the United Counties Show in Nantyci, Carmarthen, tomorrow.

They include a Wales TB Action Group and the establishment of "intensive treatment areas" within TB hotspots to test and remove all affected cattle and, if necessary, diseased wildlife.

The recommendations are contained in a report of a special inquiry by the National Assembly's Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee, which will be launched on the showground by committee chairman Alun Ffred Jones.

He will be at the National Assembly's stand from 11.30am to 12.30pm to talk about the report and the public are invited to ask questions or put their views.

"I very much look forward to discussing this report with people," said Mr Jones.

"We hope that the pragmatic, holistic approach we recommend will be accepted by the Assembly Government."

Wales Countryside Minister Carwyn Jones said yesterday that it was too early to comment on the detail of the report.

"There are a lot of good ideas and I will have to consider them very carefully," he said.

His full response is expected at the end of October, and the issue will then go to the National Assembly plenary session for debate.

The report is being launched as the latest figures show a steep increase in the number of herds affected by bovine TB in Wales - despite a decline in herd numbers.

At the end of May this year 884 herds of a total in Wales of 15,911 were subject to movement restrictions because of the presence of TB compared with 519 out of 17,510 in January 2003.

Last year the National Assembly spent nearly 8m to control the disease and compensate farmers.

"The UK Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw says things are getting better, but things are getting worse," said NFU Cymru deputy president and Carmarthenshire dairy farmer Dai Davies.

His farm near Whitland, in one of the biggest TB hotspots in Wales, has been clear of TB for 12 months now after just over one year under movement restrictions.

Mr Davies said the Assembly committee's report was a positive advance.

"It does not go as far as we as a union would like to see them go, but it's a step forward compared with other parts of the UK," he said.

"It's now up to the minister to activate those recommendations. If he does not, what's the point in having a committee to look into it?"

The report also calls for pre-movement testing across Wales with market sales dependent on a valid testing certificate; increased testing in clear areas, increased use of gamma interferon testing for all herd breakdowns; collection and testing of wildlife killed by road traffic; and a dedicated TB help-line or information packs for farmers.

There is also a need for a TB testing and research laboratory in Wales and the committee recommends consultation on an industry levy. Longer-term solutions should proceed at a UK level.

Gamma interferon testing can spot the disease up to four weeks earlier than the current less accurate skin test, but the tests must be analysed within 24 hours and there is currently nowhere to do that in Wales.

New Zealand is the only country that uses gamma interferon testing. The method is being tested on trial farms in the UK, but is not currently licensed for general use in Europe.

Mr Davies opposed pre- movement testing and pointed out that more than half the bovine stock is tested annually already.

"The ideal situation would be to see gamma interferon licensed in Europe and used every year to test animals - provided the Assembly takes positive steps to tackle the wildlife reservoir, which means testing badgers as well."

Mr Davies also opposed the committee's recommendation for an industry levy, as in Ireland, to help pay for the costs of bovine TB.

"Ireland also has a compensation package with an income supplement scheme, depopulation grant scheme and hardship grants scheme and these are not mentioned," he said.