THE NUMBER of new incidents of bovine tuberculosis dropped by 14% in the first quarter of 2004 compared with the same period in 2003.

Junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw told the environment food and rural affairs select committee there was a perception that TB was increasing by 20% every year but in fact latest figures showed a small drop.

In the first four months of 2004 there were 1264 new TB herd incidents compared with 1473 in 2003, he said.

The total number of cattle herds under TB restrictions as a result of a TB incident had also fallen.

In the first quarter of 2004, 3218 herds were under restriction at some point, but in the same period of 2003 there had been 3765 herds affected.

The number of reactors slaughtered so far in 2004 had fallen by 20% to 6596 compared with 8229 in 2003, he said.

The average number of reactors per incident  – a proxy for the severity of TB breakdowns – had also fallen to 2.0 compared with 2.2, he added.

Even in the West Country – a known TB hotspot – the figures seem to be looking better.

From Jan to Mar 2003 there were 398 new cases, compared with 352 for the same period in 2004.

Officials are describing the figures as “encouraging” but stress it is too early to draw any conclusions from them.

Mr Bradshaw told the committee: “It is important we take note of the recent trends. Not so we look at it as some dawn, but I think it is important to take note that some of the measures we have been taking have had some impact.”