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Cattle farmers must do more to stop the spread of bovine TB, says review

PUBLISHED: 17:46 13 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:46 13 November 2018

Badger culls have only a 'modest' effect in stopping TB in cattle, says an independent review into Defra's disease eradication strategy. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Badger culls have only a 'modest' effect in stopping TB in cattle, says an independent review into Defra's disease eradication strategy. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Farmers must take greater responsibility for tackling the spread of tuberculosis between cattle – which is a bigger part of the disease problem than infected badgers, experts warned.

Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor is a Norfolk representative on the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG). Picture: Matthew Usher.Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor is a Norfolk representative on the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG). Picture: Matthew Usher.

The government commissioned an independent review of its 25-year strategy for tackling bovine tuberculosis (bTB), amid ongoing controversy about the culling of badgers in “high-risk” areas in the west of the country, to stop the wild animals spreading the disease to livestock.

In East Anglia, where the risk of TB is lower, there have been no government-backed badger culls, but other measures to stop the disease spreading include cattle testing, movement controls, developing vaccines and improving biosecurity on farms.

The review’s chairman Prof Sir Charles Godfray, from the University of Oxford, said: “We realise that wildlife does have a role in this disease, but it’s wrong to put all the blame on wildlife and to use this as an excuse to not make hard decisions in industry, which is going to cost the industry money.”

When asked to quantify the contribution to disease spread from badgers versus cattle-to-cattle infection, Sir Charles added: “If I was asked to say more one than the other, I would say definitely on the cattle-to-cattle side.

“We do think there is a huge amount that can be done within the livestock industry.”

The review says the evidence on badger culling showed a “real effect but a modest effect”, but warns against an “over-emphasis” on the role of wildlife in spreading TB to cattle.

It says poor take-up of relatively cheap biosecurity measures on farms and trading in high-risk livestock is hampering disease control, with “substantial numbers” of animals moving from higher to lower risk areas, which could be an important source of infection.

Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor, who is a Norfolk representative on the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG), welcomed the report, and said the introduction of post-movement testing for animals from high-risk areas into low-risk areas like East Anglia was an “important weapon” in the fight against the disease.

But he said there are still some “irresponsible” dealers who turned a blind eye to the rules, and he also called for more government support to help cattle farmers build approved finishing units (AFUs), licensed by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), which can provide a safe route for fattening or finishing cattle from high-risk TB areas.

“I think anything that monitors cattle movements is good,” he said. “That is how we control this disease. It has got to be done through proper post-movement testing.

“People have generally become more responsible in their trading practices. It costs a fortune to be shut down, so no-one wants to stop trading.

“There is an option for people who want to bring in cattle from the high risk area. You can have an AFU which has been wildlife-approved and is monitored by the APHA so you can put your animals in there and you don’t have to test them any more.

“In my opinion, we should be getting more government grants for agricultural building allowances on those AFUs, because they will help control the disease without killing animals or wildlife. If an animal comes from the high-risk area into an AFU it is no risk to anybody.”

National Farmers’ Union vice president Stuart Roberts added: “To tackle this disease it is crucial that we use every tool available to us. Farmers are already taking a range of steps to protect themselves against this disease, with measures like securing feed stores, double fencing fields to stop nose-to-nose contact with cattle on adjoining farms, and preventing wildlife accessing buildings to help mitigate the risk of the disease spreading.”

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