This forum strand looks at the general issues involved in the bovine TB debate.
12 Sep 2013, 6:06 PM
Despite claims that the “ravage” of bovine tuberculosis is rising out of control the latest official figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reveal a significant fall in the number of cattle slaughtered in both Cornwall and Devon over the first six months of this year: 13% to 1,353 in Cornwall and by 16%t to 2,683 in Devon.
Nationally, the number of cattle slaughtered during the period (for which compensation is paid) was down by almost 1,000 to 17,285 (5.3%). However, only increases in the number of herds affected are quoted by politicians, officials and the industry without acknowledgement of the improving cattle figures.
7 Sep 2013, 5:59 PM
Email from P and M 1/9/13:
It's also interesting that Scotland, which is OTF, had mandatory POST movement testing as well - not sure how it worked but however inadequate the test, it looks like the more testing the better.
I read somewhere that post movement testing was acting as a disincentive for Scottish farmers to buy from higher risk areas which must be a good thing?
Page 25 says "OTF-W incidence in Beef herds has consistently been less than half the incidence in live Dairy herds since 2003, and has shown a similar trend in 2011"
We understand the 2012 report will be published later this month.
7 Sep 2013, 5:54 PM
Email from a farmer in a bTB hot spot area (1/9/13):
Our holding has sadly lost it's 'never restricted' status after all these years. We're trying to retire but we've still got 120 acres grass & good buildings so we agreed last year with some cattle owners that they could bring some of their stores to graze & over winter in our buildings. The stores were still here when our annual test came round earlier this year & 2 of them reacted. The slaughterhouse confirmed they had lesions so, on this occasion, the test was accurate. The rest of them were all close to being finished anyway so they all went off for slaughter not long after & we haven't restocked. We've still got sheep to eat the grass so we'll stick at that for time being.
Now it's interesting to note that the cattle got moved in from another county last year, before the changes to the move regs that were enforced in Jan 13, so they came from what was a 4 year testing interval area which didn't need pre-movement testing at that time - and they didn't bring any badgers with them!!
It's reasonable to assume that, had they been pre-move tested - which they would have to be now - there's a good chance they would not have been able to move to us in the first place.
Possibly this is a good example of how easily the infection has been moved around the country in cattle and why the changes to the move regs enforced in Jan 13 will have a significant impact by limiting cross-infection with much more pre-movement testing. It's certainly unscientific for the gov to be killing large numbers of badgers now before they have allowed enough time to pass to judge the impact of these significant changes to movement rules.
There were significant changes made to cattle movement regs in England in Jan 13 and more changes in Aug 13.
There used to be four testing intervals -12mths, 24mths, 36ths & 48mths. That's the length of time you would go in between routine whole herd tests while you remained OT. Herds in 36mth & 48mth parishes have never had to pre movement test their cattle.
The changes in Jan mean there are now only two testing intervals - 12mths & 48mths - attached is photo showing TI maps for 2011 & 2013 side by side.
New measures to try to slow the spread of bovine TB in England have been announced by the government.
TB testing and cattle movement controls will be stepped up this autumn on farms at the edge of TB hotspots.
The areas include Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and parts of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and East Sussex. The new measures are for the so-called edge area, the boundary between the high-risk area for bovine TB (predominantly in the South West, West Midlands and parts of East Sussex) and the low risk area, in the North and East of England.
Under the stricter regime, farms in Cheshire and Derbyshire within a radius of 3km (almost two miles) of a new TB outbreak on a farm will have to immediately test herds for bovine TB and again after six months.
Elsewhere, farmers will be required to supply two further clean tests after an outbreak before restrictions are lifted.
They will also need to use the gamma interferon test for spotting TB infection, which is more sensitive than the standard tuberculin skin one. Info from: www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23635098
9 Aug 2013, 1:33 PM
Bovine tuberculosis: Infection status in cattle in GB report by Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency which,contains refs and maps detailing such things as herd density per km2 page 10, reactor density per km2 page 19, unconfirmed reactor density page 20, OTFW/OTFS breakdown duration page 28/29, recurrent incidents over 3 years page 38, and a lot more information re cattle more info:
Poor record keeping was the major factor in cross compliance breaches which cost farmers £1.4 million in reductions to their Single Payment Scheme (SPS) payments.
The figures show that there was a slight reduction in the total number of failures from 2,046 in 2011 to 1,947 last year.
However, the highest number of breaches (670) was among cattle keepers for failing to report the deaths or movement of their animals. Problems were also shown with movements not being recorded in farm records.
Info from: www.farminguk.com/news/Cross-Compliance-failures-cost-farmers-1-4m_26196.html
As it is cattle movement that is the greatest cause of spread of bTB these statistics could be worrying.
28 Jun 2013, 6:32 PM
Email from MH 22/6/13.
FARMERS BETRAYED BY VETS AND POLITICIANS
Great Britain is currently failing to tackle chronic TB herds, some 2000, some under restriction over 16 years .. skin test does not pick up non-reactor Anergic cows, but they everyone has ignored my repeated suggestions that they could get rapid de-restriction via :- 1. Irish routinely use ENFER Chemiluminescent Multiplex antibody test 2. OIE recently approved IDEXX M. bovis Ab test 3. a culprit active spreader cow may be shedding 38 million bacilli / day so PCR of faecal swabs would easily pick up culprits.
17 Jun 2013, 7:59 PM
According to Farming Monthly (http://www.farmingmonthly.co.uk/livestock/animal-health/7139-tb-rates-in-cattle-hit-lowest-level-for-six-years/) bTB rates in cattle hit lowest level for six years, meaning they are at the lowest monthly rate for six years. (1)
Today Defra announced that the incidence of bTB in cattle in March 2013 was 3.6%, compared to 3.9% a year ago, and a drop from 4.7% in December 2012. In the last six years, the figure has averaged at around 5%.
This drop follows new legislation brought in on January 1st 2013 to improve bTB testing and cattle movement procedures.
1) The number of incidences, measured as the % of tests on officially TB free herds which resulted in officially TB free status being withdrawn, has not been lower than 3.7% since March 2007, with the exception of one ‘blip’ month, April 2010.
According to these figures the rate remains steady and it does not seem bTB is out of control. The introduction of improved cattle controls should drive the figures down further.
13 Jun 2013, 2:12 PM
In what looks like an initiative to cut public costs, under plans set to be published by Ministers over the summer. farmers and vets could well be asked to take more responsibility for delivering and funding a long-term bovine TB eradication policy in England.
The strategy, open to public consultation, is being put together by Ministers and the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England with the aim of delivering efficiencies and improving disease control. Defra is due to publish the ‘comprehensive’ TB eradication strategy within the next few weeks. It is set to be the biggest shake-up of TB policy in England for many years. The big question is will be who takes responsibility for delivering bTB policy and how will the eradication policy be paid for at a time when Defra’s is under extreme pressure to cut its animal health budget.
The strategy will cover all areas of bTB control, including cattle controls, compensation, vaccination and wildlife control. A number of initiatives include farmers and vets being encouraged to take greater responsibility for delivering and funding policy areas that are currently the domain of Government and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).
This includes TB testing, reactor removal, the sale of reactor carcasses to abattoirs and, most controversially, compensation. Rather than leading in these policy areas Government may, in some cases, revert to a supporting role, financially or in an administrative capacity.
A number of examples of how this might work were touched on during AHWBE’s TB conversation, launched last autumn, which sought views from interested parties on finding ‘new ways of working’ to enhance England’s TB eradication programme. For example, payments made under England’s current tabular valuation system, around £35 million in 2012/12, are likely to reduced in some form.
To make up for some of the shortfall, farmers could be given the option of selling their own reactor cattle – those passed fit by state vets - into the food chain in the belief they will get a better deal than the Government currently gets. This could be supplemented with top up payments from Government. This reveals, yet again, that reactor cattle (ie those that fail the test and Defra insists, therefore have the disease) can be sold into the food chain and so really pose no threat - so, again we ask, why the fuss over bTB?
AHWBE chairman Michael Seals has also talked about the possibility of a mutual fund to cover elements of TB compensation and testing that both farmers and Government pay into. Also up for discussion is whether farmers could organise and pay for their own TB tests on the open market, possibly with some financial support from Government. The strategy will also consider whether private sector companies could be encouraged to fund elements of the eradication programme.
Mr Seals has argued that by ‘empowering’ the industry in this way, TB policy will be delivered more efficiently, effectively and cheaply than it currently is by Government. Shifting the cost burden of disease control onto farmers, particularly in the case of compensation, will incentivise farmers to do more to keep disease at bay, AHWBE members believe.
But some farmers, particularly those who feel battered from many years of living with bTB, fear the strategy is actually being driven by the need to cut Defra’s animal health budget.
NFU's Mr Quinney backed the idea of farmers having the option of selling their own TB reactors into the food chain but not as a replacement for compensation.
He said the ‘first port of call for cost saving’ was to find new ways of reducing the amount Defra spends on administration, which he said was currently the biggest TB-related cost-burden. The second priority should be come up with a ‘more targeted and cost-effective’ testing regime.
The apparent slight fall in the level of bovine TB is encouraging, says the Badger Trust. Commenting on provisional figures released today by Defra  which show that the incidence rate for the first three months in 2013 is down from 3.9 per cent to 3.6 per cent compared with the same period in 2012, the Trust says:
“We accept that they are subject to possible adjustment, but they do appear to confirm a continuing downward trend and could be an indicator that the Coalition’s overdue and much delayed tightening of cattle movements might be starting to pay dividends”.
The figures released by Defra reveal that the number of new herd incidents during the period January to March 2013 was 1,407 compared to 1,534 for January to March 2012. The number of tests on officially TB free herds was 22,878 during January to March 2013, compared to 24,981 during January to March 2012. The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts was 9,278 during January to March 2013, compared to 9,474 during January to March 2012.
“The Coalition repeatedly claims it is determined to use –in its words—every tool in the box to control this dreadful disease,” says Trust chairman David Williams “but while it has rushed ahead with its ill conceived plans for a badger slaughter, it has dragged its heels on much more important changes in the way cattle are managed and tested. The movement controls introduced earlier this year need to be given time to make their impact and promised additional changes expedited.
Our attention has been drawn to a 2002 report 'Bovine tuberculosis could linger in pastures' (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17423382.000-bovine-tuberculosis-could-linger-in-pastures.html).
THE bacterium that causes tuberculosis in cattle remains alive in the soil for up to four months. This finding means that after an outbreak on a farm, any healthy cattle could potentially pick up the disease from pasture that had previously been used by the infected animals.
Jamie Young and his colleagues at the University of Warwick added samples of Mycobacterium bovisthe bacterium that causes bovine TBto boxes of soil in the lab. The soil was kept under conditions that mimicked those outdoors and was sampled at intervals for the presence of the bacteria. The researchers found that live bacteria could be recovered up to four months after the soil was infected, and that bacterial DNA was still present after a year.
"We can't say whether cattle could pick it up because we haven't done infectivity studies," says Young. But his findings suggest that this could be an important infection ...
29 May 2013, 2:10 PM
A fun day organised by the Bollin Valley Partnership and featuring rare cattle planned for 1st June has been cancelled.
Visitors were going to be able to get up close to a herd bull, weighing in at a hefty 850kg, a young calf and its mother - as part of the celebrations to mark the Longhorn herd's 25th anniversary.
However, during a routine first stage test for bovine TB, 4 cattle of the 80 strong herd had a positive reaction. The Ministry vet therefore issued a 60 day prohibition of cattle movement order with immediate effect.
Laboratory tests will be carried out on the 4 cattle concerned to determine whether it is bovine TB and if so, then the severity of the infection.
The rest of the herd will need two clear tests before any of the cattle can be moved from the farm or the Bollin Valley.
The source of the infection is unknown.
Should it be possible to do so, then the Fun Day will be rearranged for September or October.
Info from: www.wilmslow.co.uk/news/article/8466/family-fun-day-cancelled-due-to-bovine-tb
28 May 2013, 4:30 PM
Today's Guardian article (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis) also referred to John Bourne, the vet who led the government's 10-year, £50m trial of badger culling which reported in 2008 that it could "make no meaningful contribution" to curbing bovine TB.
Borune said; "The cattle controls in operation at the moment are totally ineffective," he says, because the tuberculin test used is not very accurate, meaning herds can often test negative even while still harbouring the disease.
"It's an absolute nonsense that farmers can move cattle willy-nilly after only two tests. Why won't politicians implement proper cattle movement controls? Because they don't want to upset farmers."
Bourne acknowledges that cattle can get TB from badgers, but says the true problem is the other way around: "Badger infections are following, not leading, TB infections in cattle."
Bourne oversaw the culling of 11,000 badgers in the trial and says it is very hard to cull quickly and effectively, even without interruptions from protesters. "You just chase the badgers around, which makes TB worse," he says. "We don't know what the outcome of the cull pilots will be but the likelihood is it's going to make things worse."Many cull opponents cite vaccination of badgers, or in future of cattle, as a better alternative.
28 May 2013, 4:16 PM
What we have long suspected and similar to many farmers we speak to with alleged closed herds - here we have a farmer admitting that closed herds are not actually closed herds - they do have other animals in as this quote from a recent Guardian article confirms (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis). Others tell us they hire in bulls each year to service their 'closed' herds. As we all should know by now because of the known problems re skin test accuracy cattle 'only from a known farm and only when fully tested for TB' cannot be guaranteed to be so.
'Cossins, whose 2,200-acre mixed farm is adjacent to the proposed cull zone, has little doubt the 27 cattle he lost to TB caught the disease from badgers. "We are a closed herd," he says. "All our animals are bred on the farm. We very occasionally buy in a stock bull, but only from a known farm and only when fully tested for TB."'
He even goes on to say ' "our cows have very little contact with other cows", admitting they do have contact with other cattle.
He acknowledges that past farming industry practices helped spread TB, which rose from 235 infections across Britain in 1986 to 28,541 in 2010.
"The movement of cattle in the past did make TB worse, but now that is controlled and I don't know how much tougher you could get..."
27 May 2013, 2:53 PM
What hypocrisy! Bill Harper, a Devon farmer and chairman of the National Beef Association's TB group, is reported (in This is Cornwall (http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/hard-years-culls-control-bovine-tuberculosis/story-19102836-detail/story.html#axzz2UV4yOSYL) as saying, clearly about the proposal to cull badgers,
"TB is a disease of overcrowding and poor conditions and this is about getting to a population density that can live healthily," he added.
From what I see from my visits to farms, particularly intensive systems, many cattle live in over crowded and poor conditions!
9 May 2013, 1:52 PM
According tothe Farmers Guardian (http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/hot-topics/bovine-tb/bovine-tb-discovered-in-herds-on-the-cumbria/lancashire-border/55481.article) positive reactors for bovine TB have been found inseveral herds of cattle on the Cumbria/Lancashire border.
Five herds have reportedly tested positive for the infection – four in the area surrounded by the M6 and A65 and to the south of the new auction mart at Junction 36 of the M6. Another herd tested positive in area around Flookburgh, near Grange over Sands, south Cumbria.
It would seem these latest outbreaks are as a result of cattle movements.
The last outbreak in Cumbria was near Penrith, in April 2011, when 103 infected cattle were destroyed.
21 Apr 2013, 2:46 PM
Classification of worldwide bovine tuberculosis risk factors in cattle: a stratified approach - report published June 2009 - a report which can be read in full at the link below and which includes some interesting facts about the disease and cattle.
Abstract The worldwide status of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) as a zoonosis remains of great concern. This article reviews the main risk factors for bTB in cattle based on a three-level classification: animal, herd and region/country level. A distinction is also made, whenever possible, between situations in developed and developing countries as the difference of context might have consequences in terms of risk of bTB. Recommendations are suggested to animal health professionals and scientists directly involved in the control and prevention of bTB in cattle. The determination of Millenium Development Goals for bTB is proposed to improve the control/eradication of the disease worldwide.
21 Apr 2013, 2:43 PM
On 14 March the NFU-organised an event, attended by around 170 farmers and vets, to discuss keeping Lincolnshire free of bovine TB. vets and people representing industry organisations, heard from an expert panel of speakers. Derbyshire-based vet James Russell advised that farmers could keep the area bTB free. Speaking as a practising vet in Derbyshire’s TB 'hotspot', James was passionate in his calls for farmers to take responsibility for their own industry. He urged producers not to trust the pre-movement test but to ask many more questions before brining cattle, from whatever source, onto their farms: 'risk-based trading' is the key to keeping TB at bay – the lower the risk the better. He was equally passionate in urging farmers not to bring in TB that could infect the county’s wildlife, as once the infection reaches the county’s badgers, it would become almost impossible to eradicate. By practising the best possible biosecurity, on all aspects of the livestock enterprise, Lincolnshire’s farmers stand a chance of remaining TB free.
Cheshire dairy farmer, Ian McGrath spoke next, giving the audience a blow-by-blow account of his Holstein herd’s TB history. Speaking of his own experiences, Ian brought the stark message home: TB is a major disease with devastating consequences for your herd, your business and your family. He spoke of the practical consequences of finding TB, of the need to get properly equipped for testing and how his business had struggled to cope with calves, barren cows and the 40 TB tests he and his family had undertaken since TB struck the farm. Ian’s experiences, he hoped, would prevent Lincolnshire producers from having to go through what he and his fellow Cheshire farmers had.
Summing up the situation, NFU’s Vice President, Adam Quinney gave an account of the situation in Somerset and the South West, where the pilot badger culls are due to start in the summer. He emphasised that keeping wildlife free of the disease is just as important as keeping cattle healthy and encouraged the meeting to consider vaccinating healthy badgers if a reactor was found in a beef or dairy herd. It’s worth considering in a TB-free area such as Lincolnshire, he said.
Biosecurity is the key to keeping Lincolnshire TB-free, Adam agreed with his fellow speakers. Trading cattle from all over the country must continue but the risks of bringing infected cattle must be at the absolute minimum: ask questions of the auctioneers, breeders and get you vet to contact his colleagues to do the same. Without a cattle vaccination, which could take up to ten years, the only way to stem the TB tide is to be absolutely sure of the animals you’re buying.
The event’s final, stark message was that Lincolnshire can only be TB free with the whole industry acting together to keep it that way. As Ian McGrath said: the only way that TB will get to Lincolnshire is on a lorry. That message has to get to all producers, whether they’re farmers, dealers, smallholders or whatever. Biosecurity of the highest standard has to be the industry’s watchword.
There were nine cases in herds across Lincolnshire last year.
Additional measures for farmers in Wales. From 1 April 2013 cattle movements must be made within 30 days of a clear bTB test (was 60 days).
Other changes will include the phasing out of Approved Quarter Units and Pre Movement Testing exemptions linked to markets and common land.
More work and income for vets? Welsh Government is developing a programme providing advice and support to herd keepers experiencing TB breakdown, called Integrated TB Breakdown Management - it will 'draw on the expertise of local private vets, where appropriate, their role in the management of breakdowns in their clients' herds'.
Info from Gwlad Issue 116, March/April 2103
30 Jan 2013, 6:10 PM
The Welsh Assembly has announced more measures to fight bovine TB.
Environment Minister, John Griffiths, has announced changes to some bovine TB cattle and surveillance controls to provide a higher level of protection against the disease.
Speaking in Plenary, the Minister confirmed that from 1 April 2013, some existing Pre Movement Testing exemptions will be amended. The main changes concern movements from markets and common land.
New key measures are:
The exemption relating to movements from markets will now only include 'Bovine animals returning from market to the holding from which they travelled'. The exemption for movements between premises sharing a right of common will now only cover 'Bovine animals travelling between their registered holding and commons in relation to which their keeper has rights of grazing'. The Minister announced that a new dedicated TB epidemiologist was to be appointed for Wales and that he or she would work within the AHVLA and focus on specific areas or clusters of disease. The postholder will be in place by April 2013.
He also announced new advice and support to farms dealing with breakdowns. The Minister said:
“I have also asked officials to develop a way to provide additional advice and support to farmers to clear up breakdowns more quickly and efficiently. We have started to explore how private vets could become more involved with this new initiative called the Integrated Breakdown Management Project.
“I know that bovine TB is a devastating disease that has a big impact in rural communities. Since I launched the Strategic Framework for Bovine TB Eradication last March, we have kept the programme under constant review. With the new tools I have outlined today, we are addressing TB in livestock and wildlife and maintaining an effective eradication programme for the benefit of farmers, rural communities and the economy in general.”
29 Jan 2013, 6:40 PM
The First Annual Report of the new GB Cattle Health and Welfare Group makes interesting reading with some very useful statistics. It reveals the huge numbers of cattle (and calves) that die for reasons other than bTB - in fact the figures for bTB, in comparison, are very low.
Interestingly there is little in bTB. There is also little emphasis on cattle welfare. Instead it concentrates on economical returns and cattle as a commodity.
The report can be downloaded from: www.eblex.org.uk/documents/content/returns/chawg_annual_reportfinal_110912.pdf
29 Jan 2013, 6:29 PM
‘TB-FREE’ HERDS HIDING INFECTION according to a press release from the Badger Trust dated 28/01/13.
The latest bovine TB (bTB) figures from Defra reveal evidence of persistent bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in officially TB-free herds. An increase in cattle slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts during January to October 2012 (3,358) over the previous year coincided with a threefold increase (9,264) in the number of tests on officially TB free herds (OTF) . The Badger Trust says these herds were clearly not TB free but were part of the continuing deep reservoir of infection in the cattle population. The Trust calls for the rigorous application of recently-imposed cattle controls and nationwide annual testing of cattle. It says “officially TB-free” is clearly a suspect designation.
This news follows evidence of wholesale lawbreaking by Welsh farmers as well as serious recent challenges to British farming from international and industry authorities. The Trust says these revelations show the industry has much to do to set its farmyards in order instead of rushing to slaughter thousands of badgers for barely marginal advantage in the long term.
1. One in seven Welsh cattle farmers has admitted to shooting badgers illegally, which is one in ten for all farmers, according to a recently published study by scientists from three universities . The Badger Trust says this is further proof of how farming industry organisations are unable to ensure their members obey the law, although they continue to demand massive privileges.
2. The first-ever report of the newly-established Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG) on the state of British farming published last autumn  assessed conditions in both dairy and beef sectors in Great Britain. Among “a number of urgent issues” are mortality in youngstock and lameness in dairy cattle. It also complains of “large gaps in availability and consistency of current and geographical data across GB”. Mortality and lameness continue to be a scandal and about 240,000 cattle die on farms each year from unknown causes. This is almost ten times the number killed because of bovine tuberculosis. The report quotes the Kite Consulting monitor of farmers’ records which showed 18,000 cattle out of a sample of 20,000 suffered from mastitis in 2009; there were 1.8 million dairy cows in June 2011 , suggesting that mastitis could be accounting for as many as 300,000 premature deaths.
The chairman of the Badger Trust, David Williams, said: “Surprisingly the report omits discussion of bTB, so missing a valuable opportunity to set the disease in a wider context. Furthermore it is astounding that the industry should still be struggling, in the words of the report, ‘to confidently quantify both levels of challenge and improvements in performance’ when vital areas such as data about cattle tracing, fallen stock and meat hygiene remain the ‘most obvious’ for future improvement. All it says about bTB is that it is “slowly spreading”. If so, after this historic lack of controls, that would hardly be surprising”.
3. An EU report four months ago  concluded that the bovine TB situation overall in GB was at best static and might be deteriorating in England. It echoed CHAWG’s strictures about coordination of data: “There is a fragmented system of controls . . . combined with a lack of co-ordination [that] makes it difficult to ensure that basic practices to prevent infection. . . are carried out in a satisfactory way”. It also highlighted the scandal of overdue tests and the need for prompt removal of infected cattle and inconclusive reactors from farms. Mr Williams added: “These keynote reports amount to authoritative and independent support for the Badger Trust’s conviction that the UK agricultural industry is ill-equipped to monitor its own affairs and to observe tuberculosis restrictions imposed in its own interests”.