In the wake of the Sir Charles Godfray’s review into the Government’s bTB strategy, industry stakeholders agreed more must be done to tackle the disease, including a greater research spend to determine what contributes to and prevents its spread.
Demonising farmers for their role in spreading bovine TB would detract from the united effort needed to stamp out the disease for good.
Speaking to FG in the wake of the Sir Charles Godfray’s review into the Government’s bTB strategy, key industry stakeholders agreed more must be done to tackle the disease, including a greater research spend to determine what contributes to and prevents its spread.
And definitive advice on which biosecurity measures being the greatest disease control benefits would also help farmers make more informed decisions on farm.
Cheshire dairy farmer Phil Latham who sits on the NFU’s dairy board said: “I am slightly frustrated biosecurity risks are not given ranks in order of importance based on evidence which would help quantify the risks rather than giving them false equivalence. I very much doubt slurry is significant compared to, for example, keeping badgers out of your cattle feed.”
Gloucestershire vet Roger Blowey, who has spent 50 years TB testing cattle, said it would be useful to look back to pinpoint how and why the disease has taken such a hold in England and Wales, but not in Scotland.
“The basic skin test was very effective in reducing reactor numbers from 25,000 per annum in the 1950s to less than 300 per annum in the 1980s, then something changed, bringing us back up to around 40,000 reactors per annum at the moment.
“We need to look at what has happened since the mid-1980s.
“We have seen a reduction in the national cattle herd but the bTB rate has gone up.
“Farm size has increased significantly - is there something about larger herds that precipitates this disease? Can a reactor have a bigger impact in a large herd than in a small herd?”
Mr Blowey highlighted the changing nature of animal husbandry and cattle housing over the years.
Changes such as the move to cubicles, loose housing and slurry storage rules meant more effluent was being spread on the land.
He added: “Earthworms love the slurry and badgers eat earthworms. We know that when artificially inoculated into slurry TB survives quite well.
Since the Badger Protection Act we know we have had a 10 to 20 fold increase in badger numbers, so more infected badger setts.”
He pointed out while there was no evidence to suggest naturally infected slurry acted as a disease reservoir, ‘it may be that we have not looked hard enough for it’.
He added there were more cattle movements now in the UK than in other EU countries.
Cheshire vet Den Leonard, of Lambert Leonard and May, took aim at the review’s emphasis on cattle movements.
“Repeat breakdown herds are virtually zero in the Low Risk Area. That would not happen if tests were the problem. Shap in Cumbria is the only area where we have created a new disease hotspot. In theory, if cattle were very infectious given all these cattle movements, there would be recurrent TB breakdowns everywhere.
“Why do we not have recurring TB in the LRA if the testing and biosecurity is not good enough and we are moving risky cattle around?”
Catherine McLaughlin, NFU chief animal health and welfare adviser, said the provision of robust risk-based trading information at the point of sale, which could be done through the Livestock Information Programme and which was highlighted by the Godfray review, would also be crucial to the whole process of eradication.
She said the Godfray review acknowledged the evidence base about which particular biosecurity measures work was not strong, because of the difficulties of carrying out formal experiments.
“Over the years there has been a huge investment in research funding around bTB and the NFU would not like to see the findings of the review interpreted as a call for even more large scale biosecurity trials that could not be carried out alongside current bTB policy,” said Ms McLaughlin.
“What we do need to understand, though, are the more subtle transmission routes, such as environmental considerations, and how they fit into the overall picture.
“The review also highlights that there are a variety of different biosecurity measures recommended by a number of different bodies.
“We agree with the suggestion of the review that consolidating all this advice would be helpful. This could also identify where there may be gaps in knowledge.
“Advances in scientific knowledge around diagnostics and testing must also be introduced as a matter of priority.”