8. Statement by the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd: Controlling BVD in cattle and scab in sheep in Wales

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 5:40 pm on 31 January 2023.

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Photo of Lesley Griffiths Lesley Griffiths Labour 5:40, 31 January 2023

One of the key principles of the Wales animal health and welfare framework is partnership working. The Gwaredu BVD programme is an excellent example of what can be achieved through such successful collaboration. I would like to recognise the importance of the veterinary delivery partners and surgeons who helped deliver this scheme on the ground. 

Following the success of the industry-led Gwaredu BVD scheme, its stakeholder steering group recommended the introduction of a compulsory programme, underpinned by legislation. The main challenge of the voluntary scheme has been the removal of infected animals from cattle herds to prevent the spread of BVD. This is an essential step towards BVD eradication, and I've always been clear: legislation would be considered following a successful voluntary phase and subject to appropriate evidence being provided to both shape and justify legislative control.

We have gathered the industry’s views on the proposal of a compulsory eradication scheme in Wales. Working in partnership alongside Gwaredu BVD and the BVD steering group, we launched our consultation last June, seeking views from the cattle-keeping community and wider stakeholders. We received over 100 responses from various representatives of the Welsh cattle industry, including keepers, vets, farming unions and auctioneers. I am pleased to note the industry’s overwhelming support on this important issue, and the consultation confirmed a desire for more stringent measures, with the majority supporting the introduction of legislation and compulsory requirements to effectively eradicate BVD in Wales. We listened to feedback, and as we enter the transition phase and prepare for future legislation, it is vital that keepers continue testing their herds against BVD and remove persistently infected animals as soon as feasibly possible.

The intention for a future scheme remains to provide a set of requirements to allow keepers to remove BVD from their herds and to keep it out through good biosecurity. Compulsory requirements would ensure the principles of effective BVD eradication are observed and the national herd can benefit from the long-term results of achieving BVD freedom. We will continue to build on the progress and successes of the voluntary phase of the scheme, and as we progress into its next phase, I would like to thank the cattle industry, delivery partners and keepers across Wales for their vigilance and efforts to date towards eradicating BVD.

Turning to sheep scab: as one of the most contagious diseases of sheep, scab is a significant threat to our sheep industry. This is due to the large number and size of flocks, to patterns of sheep movements and to extensive use of common grazing in Wales. Every keeper of sheep must recognise their responsibility to ensure their animals are kept free of scab. I have committed £4.5 million of rural investment scheme funding to be used to help support the industry tackle the disease. Eradicating this serious disease will protect the welfare of sheep in Wales, safeguard the reputation of 'brand Wales' and deliver significant economic benefits for the sector, at a particularly challenging time as we transition from our departure from the European Union.

In 2021 and 2022, I commissioned two sheep scab proof-of-concept projects to identify knowledge gaps. They successfully trialled three things: firstly, a new and innovative ELISA blood diagnostic test to identify scab in neighbouring at-risk flocks; secondly, treating affected flocks by professional mobile dipping to eliminate disease whilst ensuring there was no risk of the environmental harm from dip pollution; and thirdly, the projects facilitated local disease control groups to take ownership of outbreaks when they occurred and empowered sheep keepers to work collectively to stamp out the disease in their area. Additionally, we are funding free year-round skin-scrape testing for sheep scab, through the Animal and Plant Health Agency's Carmarthen Veterinary Investigation Centre for Welsh flocks.

Following these pilots, in July 2022 a tender went to the industry to submit a bid to deliver the £4.5 million all-Wales sheep scab eradication programme. The project provides considerable support from the Welsh Government to the sheep industry and our sheep vets to tackle and eliminate the scourge of sheep scab. We hope and expect the sheep industry will use this opportunity to put in place the necessary measures to stop scab spreading between flocks.

The strategic objectives of the programme are based on the principles of infectious disease control: keep it out—by significantly improving biosecurity within the sheep sector; detect it early—by using the novel ELISA test, which detects sheep scab two weeks before clinical signs are showing; stop it spreading—by encouraging informed purchasing of sheep and by taking the necessary biosecurity precautions whenever sheep are moved; and stamp it out—by treating infested sheep effectively and in an environmentally sustainable way. 

The programme is due to launch in spring 2023. The Welsh Government is doing its part, and now we must work in partnership with our sheep farmers, contractors, auctioneers, hauliers and all of our sheep sector to keep our 9.5 million ewes and lambs safe from the scourge of sheep scab. Diolch.