The government’s policy to tackle bovine tuberculosis will continue to focus on minimising the disease’s spread from infected areas to clean ones until a point when new technologies become available to eradicate it.

Presenting the annual report of the chief veterinary officer for 2005 on Monday (15 May), chief vet Debby Reynolds said the government would continue to follow its “overall vision” when devising policy to tackle the disease.

The vision is a commitment to reducing the economic impact of TB (while safeguarding public health) by slowing down and preventing the geographic spread of TB to areas currently free of the disease, and to achieving a sustained reduction in disease incidence in cattle in high incidence areas.

It is clear that DEFRA believes the introduction of pre-movement testing, which from March 2007 will affect all cattle over six weeks of age moving from herds under one- and two-year testing requirements, will be fundamental in reducing cattle-to-cattle spread.

But when asked just how much the requirement might contribute to reducing the disease incidence Dr Reynolds was uncertain. “It could be very significant in high prevalence areas,” she said.

Although Dr Reynolds refused to be drawn on whether a cull of badgers would be used to reduce the incidence of disease – instead, an announcement would be made when all 47,000 responses to the consultation had been considered – she suggested policy would remain focused on cattle.

“At the moment, we don’t have the tools to eradicate TB.

We need a really effective suite of cattle surveillance and control measures.

“Such a programme should include supplementing the tuberculin test with the gamma-interferon test and backing it up with a programme of regular testing, movement controls and pre-movement testing.

“Then the question is the extent to which further measures, which are associated with wildlife control, can make a difference,” said the chief vet.

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk

The report also detailed DEFRA’s response to the outbreak of avian influenza on a poultry farm last year and the death of an imported pheasant from Newcastle disease. This response to the case of Newcastle disease, said Dr Reynolds, was an excellent opportunity to rehearse procedure in the event of an avian flu outbreak.