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Government urged to remove hurdles to trialling Suffolk-made bovine TB test

PUBLISHED: 09:02 18 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:20 18 January 2018

Suffolk consultant biologist and farmer Tom Langton is calling on the government to adopt a bovine TB blood test because of the lack of reliability of the current test. Picture: MATTHEW USHER

Suffolk consultant biologist and farmer Tom Langton is calling on the government to adopt a bovine TB blood test because of the lack of reliability of the current test. Picture: MATTHEW USHER

© Archant Norfolk 2015

A Suffolk farmer is calling on the government to do more to combat bovine TB and adopt a better test for detecting it to prevent its spread.

PBD Biotech's testing kit. Picture: PBD BIOTECHPBD Biotech's testing kit. Picture: PBD BIOTECH

Consultant biologist Tom Langton, of Dews Farm, Bramfield, near Halesworth, said the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) approach to the cattle disease, affecting herds in the west of the country, was “a national scandal”.

He claimed government efforts to combat it weren’t working, and risked bringing it closer to East Anglia. He called on the department to take the necessary steps to adopt a blood (or milk) test developed by a Suffolk firm.

Officials currently rely on a skin test to detect the symptoms of bovine TB but this was unreliable, he argued.

He has written to Suffolk MP and DEFRA minister Thérèse Coffey about the “negative attitude” of officials. The new Phage blood test, which would need to go through a testing and approval process, has been developed by Dr Berwyn Clarke of PBD Biotech, based at Thurston, Bury St Edmunds, but Mr Langton claimed it was “virtually impossible” to introduce a new test into the UK market, with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) “creating unnecessary barriers for what seem to be parochial reasons that need to be dealt with”.

Dr Berwyn Clarke, PBD Biotech. Picture: BERWYN CLARKEDr Berwyn Clarke, PBD Biotech. Picture: BERWYN CLARKE

Dr Clarke said he was making progress in introducing the test, which has been developed from an approved human test, in Canada, France and the USA - but not in the UK.

“If you want to have a licensed, registered test you have to have approval from the government, but the government won’t allow us to test our system,” he said. “It’s actually very difficult for any new technology to be adopted in the UK because of the reluctance of DEFRA to allow new technologies to be explored.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said the UK has the highest incidence of the disease in Europe but was taking action through its 25-year strategy “by strengthening cattle movement controls, improving biosecurity, vaccinating badgers when possible and implementing badger control in areas where the disease is rife”.

The Phage test wasn’t validated to World Organisation for Animal Health level for use in diagnosing bovine TB. “If and when the manufacturers validate their tests we would consider their official use in TB control,” DEFRA said.

Tom Langton. Picture: TOM LANGTONTom Langton. Picture: TOM LANGTON

“In exceptional circumstances, non-validated tests may be carried out on bovine species under strict criteria. This also allows diagnostic companies to undertake the work required to validate the test.”

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