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Tackling bovine TB

16 Dec 2005 - Tenant Farmers Association

Introduction

The Tenant Farmers Association is dedicated to the task of representing farm tenants in England and Wales. Many of these tenants are livestock owners and keepers, a significant number of whom have seen their herds suffer with bovine TB.

The Tenant Farmers Association deplores the lack of leadership shown by the Government in tackling the rampant spread of bovine TB in the Country. We believe that there has been a reluctance to tackle the real issues including, most significantly, the amount of disease which exists within wildlife and in particular amongst TB infected badgers. The announcement made by DEFRA Minister Ben Bradshaw on 15 December falls a long way short of what is required to tackle the serious problem of Bovine TB.

Although the TFA supported the Government’s Randomised Badger Culling Trials (“the Krebs trials”) we did so with the proviso that the Government took action in the interim to deal with the level of disease that existed in wildlife prior to full scientific results being obtained. However, this did not occur and as a result of the Government’s failure in this area bovine TB has spread rapidly throughout the Country. We lay the blame for this at the door of the Government which has failed to take the action required in order to stem the level of disease in the Country.

Given the frustration and anxiety experienced by many livestock farmers who have either had or fear getting bovine TB in their herds and in response to the Government’s announcement on 15 December, the TFA has re-visited its policy towards bovine TB and this paper expresses its current thinking.

What should be the overall goal of policy on bovine TB over the next 10 years?

The TFA believes that the goal of policy over the next ten years should be to see the eradication of bovine TB. This may seem a tall order but the TFA believes that it is something which is achievable over that timeframe. The TFA believes that the Government and industry should be working together in order to achieve that goal. The time for further talking shops, consultation and survey work is over. The TFA calls on the Government to lay out an action plan for the achievement of the goal to eradicate TB over the next ten years.

Any action plan should cover the whole of England and Wales (and preferably the whole of Great Britain) as TB is beginning to spread rapidly into new areas. The TFA does not believe that there should be any regional differentiation in the policy it should be a national policy of control and eradication.

What should be the Government’s role be in controlling bovine TB?

The TFA believes that the Government’s first priority is to ensure that TB is eradicated in wildlife. The major source of TB infection in wildlife is with badgers and the TFA believes that it is time for a controlled, proactive and widespread cull of all infected badgers in the Country.

The Government must also ensure that TB infected cattle are removed from holdings much more quickly than they are currently. The TFA is greatly concerned that cattle testing positive for TB can remain on holdings for days or weeks after testing. Whilst farmers will do their level best to ensure that animals are isolated, there will be a risk of cattle-to-cattle spread in these circumstances and the quicker that infected animals are culled the better.

The Government also has a role to ensure that fair compensation is paid to cattle owners who lose animals. The TFA has been greatly disturbed by comments from Ministers that cattle keepers have been “over-compensated” as a result of compensation for TB. The TFA has consistently sought to argue that this is not the case particularly when you take into consideration consequential loss. The implication appears to be that farmers are using the system of TB compensation to obtain inflated values which the TFA refutes absolutely. Of course, there may be one or two individual cases where fraudulent activity is taking place but in the vast majority of individual cases farmers lose, and lose badly, rather than gain from an outbreak of TB on their holdings.

The Government should also consider research into the reasons why some cattle appear to gain immunity from TB. It is clear that some animals have a genetic predisposition to be able to gain immunity and it would be useful to identify what those characteristics are and how they might be used in breeding programmes to raise cattle that are immune to bovine TB.

Research should also be carried out into cattle vaccinations and to ensure that vaccinated cattle will not be in some way blacklisted from international trade through the testing procedures that are used to indicate whether or not an animal has had exposure to TB.

Finally in this section, the TFA believes that the Government should be investing more money into research on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to provide a basis for a live test for disease incidence.

What about pre-movement testing?

The TFA rejects outright the policy of pre-movement testing. We reject the report of the pre-movement testing stakeholder group which we do not believe adequately took into account the views of the farming stakeholder groups despite the fact that the Government claims to have taken on board farmer views in the process. The basis of pre-movement testing is one of disease containment which the TFA believes is inappropriate for the scale of the problem faced by British farmers.

The TFA shares the view of the Country Land and Business Association that pre-movement testing will “create a divisive, significantly deleterious effect on those regions required to implement these recommendations, whilst affording false confidence to those areas…. not required to so implement”.

The implications for livestock markets are disastrous and we do not believe that pre-movement testing offers any sensible guarantee to purchasers of animals.

However, the TFA is concerned to ensure that disease does not go unchecked, nationally, and therefore would propose that all bovine animals in the Country are required to be tested at least once within a twelve month period. Movements from animals from herds that have not been tested in the previous twelve months should be banned.

The Testing Regime

The TFA believes that the current skin testing regime should be maintained as the main form of testing backed-up by the culture testing. We would also suggest that gamma interferon testing is used in order help clean up continuing disease problems on farms which have had reactors identified through the skin testing procedure.

Control of bovine TB in wildlife

It is a fact that many species of wildlife carry bovine TB. However, it is most common within badgers which are able to excrete large quantities of the “bacilli” responsible for spreading bovine TB. Their foraging habits also mean that they come into contact with cattle and cattle feeding areas much more that other species of wildlife. The TFA therefore believes that there should be a proactive culling of all infected badgers nationwide. The cull should begin with all infected badgers found within a six-mile radius of holdings where there has been a TB breakdown in the past twelve-months. PCR technology may assist in identifying infected badgers into the medium or long term. The TFA believes that the most humane and effective way of culling infected badgers is by the use of gassing.

Compensation for slaughtered cattle

The TFA has been opposed to the Government’s plans to introduce a tabular valuation system. The TFA believes that such a system is unfair and inappropriate. However, the Association understands the Government’s wish to contain the costs of TB control. In view of this, the Association would be prepared to accept table valuations with specific conditions. The first is that there should be a fairer treatment within the tabular valuation system of animals with high genetic merit or cross-bred animals. The TFA believes that the most recent proposals from Government for tabular valuations would significantly penalise producers with such animals. The second condition is that the Government implement with immediate effect a policy of culling infected badgers as set out above. If these matters are not addressed, then the TFA cannot accept tabular valuations.

Conclusions

1. The overall goal of policy over the next ten years should be to see the complete eradication of bovine TB.

2. There should be no regional differentiation of policy.

3. The Government’s roles in controlling TB should be:

  • a) To ensure that bovine TB is eradicated in wildlife.
  • b) To ensure the swifter removal of infected cattle from holdings.
  • c) To ensure the payment of fair compensation for slaughtered cattle.
  • d) To carry out research into the genetic disposition of cattle that gain immunity.
  • e) To carry out research into vaccination for cattle.
  • f) To carry out research into polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology.

4. The TFA rejects outright pre-movement testing.

5. There should be universal TB testing of all cattle on an annual basis.

6. Skin tests and culture tests should be the main form of testing for cattle backed by gamma interferon following a previous positive test on a holding.

7. All infected badgers should be culled nationwide starting with all infected badgers within a six-mile radius of holdings which have had a TB breakdown in the last twelve-months.

8. Table valuations should not be introduced unless greater recognition is given to animals of high genetic merit or cross-bred cattle. Table valuations should not be introduced unless the Government are prepared to introduce culling of infected badgers as noted at point 7.

Tenant Farmers Association

16 December 2005

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