Survey reveals worrying emotional and financial impact of bovine TB on Welsh farming

A revealing NFU Cymru survey has shown the true extent to which bovine TB is impacting Welsh farmers and damaging their businesses.

The poll of over 500 cattle farmers across Wales details the high levels of anguish, despair and economic loss of those with experience of bovine TB, as well as the concerns of those who’ve not had TB on their farm but fear that it may happen.

NFU Cymru said the findings of the survey results highlighted a ‘lack of confidence amongst Welsh farmers in Welsh Government’s approach to bovine TB eradication in Wales’.

Key stats

  • 507 Welsh farmers completed the survey
  • 85% said bovine TB had negatively impacted their own mental health or someone in their family
  • Over 93% said they were extremely concerned or very concerned about bovine TB
  • 89% stated Welsh Government’s approach to bovine TB eradication as very poor or fairly poor

Over 93% of farmers answering the survey said they were extremely concerned or very concerned about bovine TB. 85% (462) of respondents who consented to answering a question about the mental health consequences of bovine TB on farmers said that the disease had negatively impacted their own mental health or someone in their family.

The toll the disease is taking on farmers was evident in some of the anonymous feedback given in the survey.

Anonymous feedback

Anonymous 1: “We have had TB here on and off for six years and it has had such a negative impact on myself mentally and financially. The government have no idea what they are putting farmers through.”

Anonymous 2: “TB has a devastating effect on farmers and their families. From the worry of the test, the worry of the valuation process, the extreme cruelty of seeing pregnant cows being shot on farm and dragged on a lorry and wondering when it’s going to stop. Unless you are a farmer in this situation you cannot understand and therein lies the problem.”

Anonymous 3: “I think the best way I can describe farming with TB is to farming with one hand tied behind your back. The fact that we can’t see any way out from the disease is heartbreaking and demoralising.”

Anonymous 4: “The whole test is so stressful. The worry in case you go down with it. The worry of somebody getting hurt. The extra staff you have to pay to help do the test, bringing cattle in and out. The worry if they are a bit wild and get hurt. All these things cause so much mental worrying.”

Cost to business

A question in the survey asking farmers to estimate the cost to their business of the disease and its associated testing regime provided some eye-watering results. The estimated average financial cost over the last 12 months to the 478 farms that provided cost details was £25,677. Across all respondents, over 30% estimated their costs at over £10,000 and 13% said the figure was over £50,000.

NFU Cymru lobbying

NFU Cymru’s Bovine TB Focus Group has previously raised with Welsh Government the importance of effective and transparent communication with farmers experiencing a TB breakdown and this valid point was borne out in the survey results. Asked if they could change one thing about the communications they received from government and or Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA), 37.5% would alter the language and tone of the letters they receive from these agencies. Meanwhile, more than two in five farmers said they’d like more involvement from their private vet in the management of their TB breakdown and 14% wanted more consistent contact with their case vet.

Over 75% of those completing the poll were either currently experiencing a bovine TB breakdown and/or had suffered one in the past. Of the 101 farmers who said their business was currently experiencing a breakdown, a third (33%) had been in that position for at least two years and nearly one in five had had a TB breakdown of five years or more. It was a similar picture for the 283 farmers recording historic breakdowns, with 35% of those who had TB on farm in the past saying it had lasted for at least two years.

Bovine TB transmission

Members were also asked for their views on factors influencing bovine TB transmission. An overwhelming majority (88.9%) of those surveyed said they thought wildlife, such as badgers and deer, were an extremely strong or strong influence in transmission. Only 1% - five respondents – believed wildlife had no influence in bovine TB transmission.  89% of those taking the survey rated Welsh Government’s approach to bovine TB eradication as very poor or fairly poor.

NFU Cymru Deputy President Abi Reader said: “The volume of responses to this survey in a short timeframe is testament to the strength of feeling amongst NFU Cymru members as to the impact of bovine TB. The findings show not just the difficulties being experienced by farmers currently suffering a bovine TB breakdown, but also the experiences of those who’ve repeatedly borne the scars of this disease, as well as the fears of farm businesses who have not yet gone down with bovine TB, but worry it will be ‘their turn’ soon.

Lack of confidence

“These results highlight the lack of confidence amongst Welsh farmers in Welsh Government’s approach to bovine TB eradication and, in particular, the overwhelming frustration that politics continues to override scientific evidence when it comes to tackling the reservoir of disease in the wildlife population. The data also provides an insight into the significant financial burden that bovine TB is loading on Welsh farming. Looking over the comments provided in the survey, it is heartbreaking to read the anguish that Welsh farming families are going through as a result of bovine TB breakdowns and seeing their cattle slaughtered. There was a common trend among respondents that they don’t feel that Welsh Government is listening to or fully understanding their plight, but it is clear from the unanimous voices in our survey that Welsh Government cannot ignore the mental health impact the current policy is having on rural communities and those working in the allied industries. For so many farmers, despite their best efforts, it feels that there is no light at the end of the bovine TB tunnel - this needs to change.

“NFU Cymru has long-recognised the challenges the sector is facing with bovine TB and in recent years has set up a dedicated Bovine TB Focus Group to ensure the union has a strong, consistent and proactive emphasis on the disease. Many of the key themes arising from the survey results – particularly around communication and the importance of involving the farmer’s own vet in managing a TB breakdown - are shared with the priorities identified by the NFU Cymru Bovine TB Focus Group. We are committed to taking these priorities forward to try and improve the TB picture for farmers in Wales.

“NFU Cymru is extremely grateful to all those farmers who responded to the survey and we recognise that documenting this impact may have been a difficult experience. These responses only help strengthen our voice and the union will continue its strong lobbying of Welsh Government for an effective eradication policy that brings to an end the suffering bovine TB is causing to cattle, wildlife and farming families.”

Gofynnwch gwestiwn i ni am y dudalen hon

Unwaith y byddwch wedi cyflwyno’ch ymholiad bydd NFU Cymru yn cysylltu â chi ac, os yw’n briodol, bydd eich cwestiwn yn cael ei drosglwyddo i un o’n timau polisi.

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