A government agency is to spend nearly £12m researching endemic livestock diseases to identify better ways to treat affected animals and reduce their cost to the industry.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is leading a programme supporting 10 projects across the UK. Other partners include the Scottish Executive, DEFRA, the British Pig Executive and animal health companies Pfizer and BioBest.

It is hoped that the research will generate better scientific understanding of the behaviour and spread of diseases which can then be used to improve their management and control. The projects include:

  • Bovine tuberculosis – this project will investigate the Mycobacterium bovis bacterium that causes infection to see if new strains are evolving that alter the animal’s immune response to evade control
  • Bovine mastitis – causing pain and stress, this affects over one million cattle per year at a cost to the dairy sector over £200m
  • Footrot in sheep – a painful condition costing the sheep sector about £31m a year. Little is currently known about the bacterium causing footrot. This project seeks to improve understanding and advise farmers on better control methods
  • Post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome – since 1999 this has spread across the UK pig sector causing wasting, diarrhoea, pneumonia and jaundice. This project will consider what causes the disease to appear and identify ways to control it.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “All research into combating livestock diseases is news the industry welcomes, but the harsh reality is these areas have been underfunded for too long. The importance of agriculture suggests more resource should be directed, and recent global events reinforce the NFU’s position that agriculture is becoming increasingly important. It’s pleasing to see that government is beginning to recognise its responsibility to the sector.”

BBSRC director of science and technology Nigel Brown said: “These projects are targeted at bringing the country’s world-class science to bear against some of the most damaging diseases.”

  • See Livestock, page 39 for more details