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East Anglian cattle farmers urged to 'wake up' to bovine TB disease risks

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 May 2019 | UPDATED: 07:57 14 May 2019

East Anglian cattle farmers have been warned about the risks of buying calves from bovine TB hotspots in the West Country.

East Anglian cattle farmers have been warned about the risks of buying calves from bovine TB hotspots in the West Country.

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I would like to raise awareness among your readers of the risks associated with the increasing number of calves being brought onto East Anglian farms from high-risk bovine tuberculosis (bTB) areas.

At this time of year the Busk Calf Sale is in full swing. Thousands of calves bought by commercial cattle traders from markets in the South West travel hundreds of miles to farms in East Anglia - to farmers inexperienced in managing bTB and potentially ignorant of the bTB status of the calves.

The calves are legally required to be tested for bTB prior to movement and re-tested after 60 days (post movement tested). The test for bTB is only 85pc accurate, meaning many infected animals go undetected.

Here in the South West we have noticed bTB cases increasing in the past few years. One of the contributing factors to this increase is the higher number of acres in maize production. The maize is subsidised not for food use, but to fuel the electricity-producing "digester" units spread across the country.

The maize, because of its high energy content, attracts a wide variety of wildlife from the hills and moors. One consequence is that, since the maize is low in the trace element selenium, the animals are increasingly susceptible to contracting bTB. Hence the number of diseased animals is increased, putting farmed cattle at higher risk of contracting bTB.

Additionally, since the hunting ban came into force in 2004 the deer herds are no longer mixed up, thereby reducing the healthy cross fertilisation between strong animals and reducing the sick animals culled. Again the number of infected animals has increased.

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We understand that East Anglia cattle markets, such as the well-respected market in Norwich, are maintaining good biosecurity by dealing only in local cattle from the low-risk bTB4 area.

However, because of the movement of cattle across the country direct to farms we are potentially opening East Anglia to higher rates of infected animals, with all the financial and reputation costs.

Here in the South West we have a saying: "It's not if you go down with bTB, it's when". I urge you farmers in East Anglia to wake up to the fact that your current practices will see your area suffering like we have done. Keep your area free from bTB.

INDUSTRY ADVICE

In response to the warning from the West Country, NFU East Anglia adviser Adam Scott said: "Bovine TB is a terrible disease and it's vital that everyone works together to help control it and, eventually, eradicate it.

"For East Anglia, where wildlife is currently free from bovine TB, the main risk of disease spread in the region is from the accidental importing of infected cattle.

"Farmers are recommended to follow the advice on the industry's TB Hub when purchasing cattle, to minimise this risk of disease spread. This includes finding out TB history information for the supplying herd before purchase, carrying out post-movement testing of cattle after purchase and keeping new cattle isolated from the rest of the herd until any post-movement test is completed."

- More advice for farmers is available at the TB Hub website.

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