IMPROVING TB PROGRAMME:By Andrew Watts

DEFRA HAS announced plans to enhance the current TB testing programme and movement controls on farms affected by bovine TB.

Although most of the proposals will not come into effect until February 2005 a tighter testing programme aimed at dealing with potential new hotspots will be in place by mid November.

 The State Veterinary Service is writing to farmers with tests due from Feb 16, 2005 onwards to outline their testing window and the date that movement restrictions will be applied if the tests are not completed on time.

From Feb 16 herd movement restrictions will be applied immediately a test becomes overdue. The move was welcomed by Jan Rowe, vice chairman, NFU animal health and welfare committee, who said such action was necessary because of the lack of DEFRA’s overall policy to target TB.

“The measures will be a bit Draconian to begin with but once farmers get to grips with the new system there should be no problems.

“Unfortunately they won’t have a great impact on the level of TB, especially in hotspot areas, where the increasing rate of TB is driven by badgers,” said Mr Rowe.

The proposals received similar support from Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, who hoped the controls meant the start of a determined drive by DEFRA to tackle the issue of bovine TB.

“Unless this good start is built on then TB will continue to expand at 18% a year, at huge cost to the government, farmers and the taxpayer. “It’s time for DEFRA to stop stuffing about and grasp all of the control nettles, there”s no point introducing cattle-to-cattle controls if those left will contract the disease from badgers,” said Mr Forster.

The measure’s overall impact on the level of TB is likely to have little effect due to the expanding population of badgers across many areas of the UK, explained Bill Harper, south west representative of the NBA.

“The only way to tackle TB – especially in hotspot areas – is to clear infected badger setts until you find badgers free of the disease. Only at that point can you stop,” said Mr Harper.

 “Until then it will just spread slowly and insidiously as infected badgers get rejected by their family group and pushed out of the sett, forcing it to move to a new area. This is what we are seeing now as the disease creeps across the south west and in to the Midlands.”