Bovine tuberculosis continues to tighten its grip on beef and dairy farms across Great Britain, with the prevalence of disease increasing 19% during the first six months of 2007 compared with the same period last year.

The incidence of TB is now on a par with that seen during 2005 – the worst year for the disease since it was virtually eradicated in the 1970s.

Statistics published by DEFRA on Friday (10 August) reveal a continuing spread, with the number of herds under TB2 movement restrictions rising 7% to 6540. This, however, is to be expected as 7% more cattle were tested following the introduction of compulsory pre-movement testing for cattle from higher-risk herds.

Since January 2003, when normal testing practices were resumed after foot-and-mouth, the number of herds under restriction has gradually increased from 2660 to 6540 today – a rise of 142%. As a result, almost 50% of herds across England now fall in a one- or two-year testing parish.

As a consequence of the continuing spread, 14,147 cattle were slaughtered for TB control purposes during the first six months of the year, an increase of 22% compared to the same period in 2006.

The west of England continues to be the worst affected region, with a 15% increase in the number of cattle slaughtered and a 5% increase in incidence.

Richella Logan, animal health and welfare adviser at the Country Land and Business Association, said action was urgently needed to tackle the failures in current policy.

“The significant rise in TB incidence is nothing short of shocking. These figures, coming as the farming community is facing all sorts of financial implications resulting from the foot-and-mouth outbreak, will leave many reeling.

“Both TB and foot-and-mouth share the faculty to cripple livestock keepers who have an extremely limited capacity to have any control to prevent either from playing havoc with their livelihoods.

“It has to be a further indication that a coherent, cost-effective policy of action, with the ability to deal with all drivers of the disease, is needed urgently.”