Farming leaders have described DEFRA’s decision to expand the use of the gamma interferon test to detect bovine tuberculosis as a useful move, but have stressed that badger culling is also needed.

Announced last week by junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw (News, 11 August), the increased use of the test will commence in October.

Mr Bradshaw said:

“Our cattle testing programme is a crucial part of our efforts to reduce bovine TB.

The tuberculin test is, and will remain, central to TB cattle controls, but we can improve our testing regime by making greater use of the gamma interferon blood test.”

The NFU – which next week plans to host a TB summit – and the National Beef Association said they were supportive of the announcement, but both groups used the opportunity to remind government of the need to tackle the disease in all species.

“The announcement is fine as far at it goes, but it still does not get to the root of the TB problem, which is the reservoir of disease in wildlife,” said NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond.

“Additional testing will be of little value to the thousands of farmers in hotspot areas whose herds are constantly exposed to infection spreading from wildlife as a result of the government’s refusal so far to deal with disease in badgers,” he added.

NBA chairman Duff Burrell said the announcement would do little to aid those facing the “desperate situation” of one- and two-year testing restrictions.

He urged government to tackle the reservoir of constant re-infection in these areas.

In a joint statement Freda Scott-Park and Andrew Biggs, respective presidents of the British Veterinary Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association, welcomed the development.

Mr Biggs commented specifically on the increased sensitivity to detecting infected animals in the earliest of stages, but called on DEFRA to complete validation work to reassure the profession that the specificity demonstrated is accurate.

The announcement applies to England and Wales only.

There are no plans to introduce the test in Scotland.

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk