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Phil Latham: Science and shattered dreams at TB conference, and cheers to Coca-Cola's new drink

Insights

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting hosted by the NFU which brought nearly 80 farmers together to hear the latest on TB science. 

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I thought Prof Ian Boyd started off well by describing a systematic approach and the cycle of infection between cows and badgers and how it might work, but I was disappointed from that point on, the issue of wildlife control was largely ignored.

 

Rather mischievously, he pointed out badgers may only account for 5.7 per cent of TB through direct transmission, but he forgot to point out the paper from which this statistic was derived also stated badgers accounted for nearly half of all TB, caused by the onward spread between cows once it was introduced into a herd.

 

Out of all the speakers, the one I think came across best was the Welsh Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop. She said she understood each officially TB-free withdrawn dot on a map was someone’s shattered dream, and I have to applaud her obvious desire to get on top of the problem with the launch of her national badger study.

 

I hope Welsh farmers take up her offer in earnest to get flat-packed badgers off to the lab so the level of TB in badgers can be ascertained and mapped. I think it was a great initiative set up by Minette Batters and one I think needs to be repeated on a regular basis so scientists and farmers can understand each other better.

 

At the end, there was a certain level of frustration in the room, but I am not altogether sure those on the panel understand why. Society demands a science-led approach, yet the solution they prefer is vaccination, a 102-year-old technology, for which there is no proof it will work in the field. Farmers’ livelihoods are in the balance and I think it is perverse farmers are being asked to rely on the hope this works rather than science to provide a solution.

 

The one good bit of news this week is Coca-Cola is apparently launching a milk in USA within a month. This ‘premiumisation’ of a commodity product sounds great to me, and I hope this nutritionally-enhanced milk catches on in the same way as its other products.

 

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