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WG plans introducing BVD Legislation

THE WELSH Government last week announced plans to tackle the scourge of Bovine Viral Diarrhoea in Welsh farms.Following the conclusion of the five-year industry-led Gwaredu BVD scheme, its stakeholder steering group recommended introducing a compulsory programme underpinned by legislation.

The Gwaredu BVD scheme, launched in 2017, saw over 83% of the cattle herds in Wales screened for BVD and has identified over 1,000 Persistently Infected animals.


Speaking in the Senedd, Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said: “I’ve always been clear: legislation would be considered following a successful voluntary phase and subject to appropriate evidence being provided to shape and justify legislative control.”

However, the timescale for the legislation’s introduction received criticism from Plaid MS Mabon ap Gwynfor, his party’s spokesperson on rural affairs.

Mabon ap Gwynfor noted the number of treated herds but added that tackling BVD depended on maintaining momentum.

He added: “Unfortunately, from what I can see today, that momentum, which had been generated here in Wales, will come to an end. The £10 million of European funding will go to waste without continuity. The only real way of ensuring the continued success of this programme is through legislation, as we’ve heard. We need legislation to ensure that farmers continue to test. That’s what I, vets and farmers were hoping to hear today.

He pressed Lesley Griffiths about when she would bring forward a bill and asked for details of the eradication programme’s next stage,
He asked: “How does the Minister expect farmers to continue to test voluntarily? Testing costs money, of course. Where will that money come from for these tests? For how long will the next phase be in place? But more importantly, when can we expect a Bill in order to require this? Can we at least, have a clear timetable for such legislation, please?”

On the final question, Lesley Griffiths answered that the Welsh Government would bring forward legislation next year. However, she said farmers would have to pay for testing their herds.


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The FUW responded to the ministerial announcement by welcoming the commitment to legislation but lamenting the delay before its introduction.

FUW Deputy Head of Policy Dr Hazel Wright said: “We welcome recognition by the Minister that national coordination is required for widespread BVD eradication. However, the FUW has been clear from the start of the voluntary RDP-funded Gwaredu BVD programme that any gains made during the voluntary phase could be lost if there is a significant gap between the end of the voluntary programme and the onset of legislation.”

“The FUW has been clear that a ‘no-gap’ scenario is the best and most efficient transition between a voluntary phase and a legislative approach to national BVD eradication. However, it now appears that there may be a lengthy transition phase as we move towards legislation, and we are concerned that this will lead to a decline in the level of annual screens being conducted.”

According to the summary of responses to the Welsh Government’s consultation to introduce a BVD Eradication Scheme, almost 90% of respondents agreed with the introduction of BVD legislation in Wales.

“In our response to the Welsh Government’s consultation, we made it extremely clear that a smooth and immediate transition to the legislation was required to maintain momentum. Therefore, it is extremely frustrating that the Gwaredu BVD scheme ended in December 2022 without any firm plans for starting a legislative programme.

“Nevertheless, we will use the transition phase to ensure that future BVD legislation is not overly burdensome or costly. We continue to seek clarity on several aspects of BVD legislation which were not fully addressed within the consultation. As part of our commitment to BVD eradication in Wales, we will continue to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that any future programme is effective and proportionate.

“Although the funding for free youngstock testing and PI hunts has ended, we advise members to continue screening for BVD during the transition phase. This is the best way to protect herds against BVD and will help cattle keepers be prepared for a future legislative control programme,” added Dr Wright.


The control – and subsequent eradication – of BVD is essential to protect the status of the Welsh cattle industry as a world leader in livestock health and welfare. BVD is costly, and estimates suggest that this disease can cost £4,500 per year for the average beef herd and £15,000 for dairy herds through associated issues such as lowered milk yields, poor fertility, diarrhoea and respiratory problems.
Strict biosecurity measures and a robust herd health plan are essential to prevent the introduction of BVD into a herd once it has been eliminated. Effective biocontainment measures are essential on farms with an active infection to reduce the costs of BVD and eventually eradicate BVDV from the herd.

The virus is contracted from contact with infected cattle; it is also readily sexually transmitted. Those animals infected as adults usually recover from the virus and become immune. BVD is, however, readily transmitted across the placenta from cow to calf. Animals infected in-utero are born permanently (persistently) infected with the virus. These animals excrete large volumes of the virus and are the main route of infections in other animals.

Identifying and removing these animals is the mainstay of eradication schemes for the BVDV. It needs only one persistently infected animal to be introduced into a susceptible herd to cause very significant financial losses

BVD virus is most important when it infects susceptible breeding cattle during early pregnancy, causing foetal death/abortion and birth defects.

Infection of the foetus before 110/120 days of pregnancy results in the birth of a live calf but persistently infected (the animal carries the virus for life). This is caused by the failure of the developing immune system of the foetus to function properly before 110 days.
Persistently infected (PI animals) typically fail to thrive and will be noticeably smaller and less healthy than their age cohort. Virus infection may also lead to defects in the developing foetus’ eyes and brain. These calves may be born blind and lack coordination. These calves should be culled for welfare reasons, as well as for being a source of infection.

Several European countries have already engaged in successful BVD control programmes through legislation.
Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark have effectively eradicated BVD, while countries such as Austria and Switzerland have also established successful eradication programmes. Furthermore, Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland have had various forms of BVD legislation in place for many years. However, Wales has lagged and failed to introduce any legislation to deal with the disease, preferring a voluntary approach that has achieved mainly positive outcomes.