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Largest dairy herd in West country (Cornwall) commit bovine TB offences

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In January 2010 the largest dairy herd in the west country, Wills Bros Ltd, was put under movement restrictions following the discovery of an inconclusive reactor on their premises at Pawton Dairy, near Wadebridge, Cornwal during a pre-movement TB test. This restriction should have prevented any unlicensed movements onto or off the premises until a second and negative TB test had been obtained at least 60 days after the initial test. However, Defra vet, Cliff Mitchell, noticed an article and photo in the local paper, The Cornish Guardian, showing the Wills family with show results from the National All-Breeds Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. This prompted a joint investigation by Defra vets and Cornwall Council's Trading Standard's animal health team. They discovered a range of errors in the herd's records.

During the investigation it came to light that cattle had been moved between premises run by Wills Bros Ltd without appropriate TB pre-movement testing, in contravention of TB restrictions, without passports being completed and without the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) being informed of the movements.

Also 58 passports were found on the premises for cattle which had died more than seven days previously, the time limit for registering deaths.

In relation to the inconclusive reactor animal, it was discovered that at the time of the pre-movement test it had no official identification, and at the re-test 60 days later the animal was still not identified.

Trading Standards arranged for a DNA test of this pedigree animal and it was found that there was no biological link between it and the animal that was registered as its mother with both the BCMS and Holstein UK, the pedigree society.

John Pascoe, of Cornwall Council's Trading Standards, said: "During the investigation of this case, serious deficiencies in the recording, reporting and monitoring of cattle births and deaths were uncovered. It is vitally important for the farming industry to adhere to these controls, which enable rapid tracing of animal movements. Non compliance, such as those found, can have devastating effects for the whole of the farming industry if a disease situation develops.'' He also said it had not been the first time his inspectors had found problems with cattle passports. They should be returned within seven days of the death of an animal under the Cattle Identification Regulations 2007

Investigators from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Cornwall Council Trading Standards found:

· Cattle had been moved between premises run by the dairy without TB pre-movement testing; passports had not been completed;

· 58 cattle passports were found on the premises for cattle which had died more than seven days previously;

· The British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) had not been informed; · DNA tests of the suspect animal found no biological link between it and the animal registered as its mother;

· At the re-test 60 days later the animal was still not identified.

In February 2011 Wills Bros pleaded guilty to seven offences under the tuberculosis and cattle identification legislation of 2007, which is part of the Animal Health Act. The company was fined £7,200 and ordered to pay costs of £7,140 at Bodmin Magistrates Court after a report about a prize-winning cow appeared in a local newspaper when the herd was under a disease movement restriction order

The only comment we have found on the case comes from the Badger Trust. Patricia Hayden, Vice Chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “These offences were committed in the heart of a major bTB hotspot. They risked the health of prime stock at a major cattle show and the wellbeing of pedigree herds and farm businesses all over the country. The discovery of so many passports overdue for return to the British Cattle Movement Service also raises serious questions about the reliability of the system. Transparency is crucial when bovine tuberculosis is causing serious economic harm to farm businesses.

“If other cattle at the show had been infected, unthinking advocates of culling badgers would have been quick to claim their case had been proved. As it is, many farmers in Cornwall could yet be licensed to shoot badgers in the mistaken belief that it will help to eradicate the disease.

“We have been warning the industry for almost 30 years about the danger of moving untested cattle and we have welcomed the belated controls of the last five years. As happened 50 years ago those controls now seem to be succeeding [1] without killing any badgers.”

In June 2011 came the news that Wills Brothers Limited have been banned from showing for six months after they pleaded guilty to the charges of breaching Bovine TB movement restrictions. The decision was made by Holstein UK following a meeting of its Rules Committee in May. The six-month ban, started on June 3 and bans them from competing in this summer’s biggest shows including the Dairy Event and Livestock Show in September. Holstein UK has also requested that Willsbros also pay back all the costs associated with the case and the disciplinary action.

Ref 1 An extrapolation of Defra’s January to September 2010 provisional statistics shows a steady decline over two consecutive years in England from the high point of 38,973 cattle slaughtered in 2008 to an (estimated) 33,000 by the end of 2010 – without killing badgers or any other wildlife. This would be even faster than the decline in the 1960s.

Information from:

www.thisisdevon.co.uk/farming/Dairy-firm-fined-record-faults/article-3245575-detail/article.html www.southwestbusiness.co.uk/agriculture/Dairy-firm-fined-record-faults/article-3245575-detail/article.html www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/news/Dairy-firm-fined-record-faults/article-3245575-detail/article.html

Press Release from Badger Trust dated 23 February 2011

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