Beef cow© Tim Scrivener

A leading cattle veterinarian has said the government’s target to eradicate TB in the next 25 years is grossly underestimated.

Den Leonard told the British Cattle Breeders’ Conference at Telford on Tuesday (19 January) that it could take at least double that time to eradicate the disease, citing the 50-year TB eradication programme in New Zealand.

He added the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis can live in herds for several years before showing.

“Bacteria are all different and M bovis takes a long time to show, staying in a cow’s immune cells. This also limits how well vaccination can work,” said Mr Leonard.

“Animals can live through infection as carriers for many years if not detected and culled.”

See also: Bovine TB: How Ireland compares with the UK

Mr Leonard said the spread of TB between 1986 and 2016 was “a disgrace” and described the disease’s progress north as “an absolute shocker”.

He said protected status for badgers, given in 1992, was a “huge moment” for TB.

Mr Leonard outlined testing, culling and biosecurity as key integrated industry approaches to tackling the bacteria.

See also: Dairy farm on the brink of collapse after TB outbreak

Three key areas for reducing TB spread

  • Test – Find bacteria carriers
  • Cull – remove those carriers
  • Biosecurity – prevent reinfection

Farmers could do more

He also admitted farmers could do more to assess disease risk when buying cattle.

He championed the approach taken on the badger-free Isle of Man, where animals are pretested prior to movement from the UK mainland followed by a post-movement test along with a gamma interferon blood test and every farm is tested every two years.


Underlining the importance of biosecurity, he suggested farms make it “difficult for badgers to access feed”.

He added: “If you are feeding maize and straights and your doors are open, while down the road your neighbours’ isn’t then badgers will teem into your farm if you live in an area with badgers.”