Can the ever-increasing costs of the bovine TB programme be justified? Print this pagePrint this page

In June 2009 it was reported that the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee said that the amount spent over the last decade to merely contain the disease was poor value for money. The following are extracts from the report (ref. 2). "Bovine TB has been a major problem for far too long,". "This is a damning admission. To have spent £200 million over a 10-year period, merely to contain a disease and with no end to the problem in sight, is poor value for money." The cost to the taxpayer for the testing and compensation of the bovine TB programme is scandalous and is tending to escalate year on year and set to reach £1 billion soon NBA forecast 2008/09.

Bovine TB, since the end of the nineteenth century, has occupied a substantial proportion of human resources and veterinary capacity. In view of the huge costs involved it is surprising that there have been so few economic and financial analyses of bTB control, especially in countries, such as the UK, that put enormous effort into controlling/eradicating this 'disease' in order to be labelled 'bTB free'. In the UK the only research would appear to be 'The badger control policy; an economic assessment', by AP Power and BGA Watts, 1987, London, MAFF, which obtained negative results in the economic evaluation of TB control campaigns, including the control of badgers. Proper and detailed analyses of existing control systems is currently lacking. Badger culls are unlikely to be a cost-effective way of controlling bovine tuberculosis in cattle, a report from The Imperial College London and Zoological Society of London concluded in 2010. From a public health perspective the cost effectiveness of control interventions must be demonstrated and in the UK this is not done.

The figures below are the costs for the UK for attempting to control/eradicate bTB over the last ten years. These include cattle testing, compensation, badger culling, surveillance, research, HQ and overheads, less the income received from carcasses of reactors and inconclusive reactors, sold back into the food chain (ref. 1.)

1989/1990 £24.8 million
1999/2000 £38.2 million
2000/2001 £36.2 million
2001/2002 £30.5 million
2002/2003 £74.5 million
2003/2004 £88.2 million
2004/2005 £90.5 million
2005/2006 £99.1 million
2006/2007 £79.71 million
2007/2008 £79.93 million
2008/2009 £108.4 million


In June 2009 it was reported that the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee said that the amount spent over the last decade to merely contain the disease was poor value for money. The following is an extract from the report (ref. 2). 'Bovine TB has been a major problem for far too long,'. 'This is a damning admission. To have spent £200 million over a 10-year period, merely to contain a disease and with no end to the problem in sight, is poor value for money.'

The following is an extract from the 2nd edition (1906) 'Mycobacteriul bovis Infection in Humans and Animals', by CO Thoen, James H Styeele and MJ Gilsdorf; 'In view of the large number of susceptible species, the differences in pathogenesis and the variety of possible transmission mechanisms, combined with the lack of effective vaccination and moderately accurate diagnostic methods, bovine TB can be difficult to control', let alone eradicate, which is what the existing policy is aiming to do!

Paul R. Torgerson and David J. Torgerson believe the existing programme of control represents poor value for money. They are the authors of the report published in November 2009, Public Health and Bovine Tuberculosis: What's All The Fuss About? (ref 3) In their report they propose that bTB control in cattle is irrelevant as a public health policy. They provide evidence to confirm that cattle-to-human transmission is negligible. They also state that aerosol transmission, the only probable route of human acquisition, occurs at inconsequential levels when milk is pasteurised, even when bTB is highly endemic in cattle. Furthermore, they believe there is little evidence for a positive cost benefit in terms of animal health of bTB control. Such evidence is required; otherwise, there is little justification for the large sums of public money spent on bTB control in the UK. This well referenced report, which should be read by everyone who has an interest in bTB, includes sections on the control and re-emergence of tuberculosis in British cattle; transmission of bTB to humans rarely occurs in the UK; bTB is a food borne disease in humans; the economics of bTB; misallocation of resources; a new way forward; concluding remarks.

Ref. 1. DEFRA figures ‘Breakdown of bovine TB expenditure in Great Britain: 1998/99 – 2007/8

Ref. 2. Northern Ireland Assembly Press Release 29/06/09

Ref. 3. Public health and bovine tuberculosis: what's all the fuss about?


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