KILLING WILDLIFE carriers of bovine tuberculosis in hotspot areas will not halt the spread of the disease, NFU Cymru members have been warned.

John Bourne, chairman of the independent scientific group overseeing the culling trials, told the union’s winter conference at Builth Wells that such a simplistic approach would not work, unless there was total elimination of wildlife over an extensive area.

He produced examples of mounting evidence that the geographical spread of individual fingerprinted TB strains was linked to movements of cattle rather than infected wild animals.

The limited accuracy of the standard tuberculin skin test meant that sub-clinical cases in cattle could be missed during routine testing and infected animals traded in good faith.

“Bovine TB should be treated as an infectious disease, and farmers must recognise the risk involved when cattle are moved from farm to farm,” according to Prof Bourne.

“My advice is to think very carefully about inward movements, and if you can avoid them, do so. Check the TB history of a farm supplying you and quarantine incoming animals until they can be tested.”

It was crucial that farmers accepted the need for self-imposed discipline over local and long distance cattle movements, he said. DEFRA must also ensure that the testing programme was up to date, and every effort must be made to improve on-farm diagnosis.

Used in tandem, the tuberculin and gamma interferon tests picked up 97% of infections, whereas the commonly used skin test had a sensitivity of only about 67%, he said.

Prof Bourne said new scientific evidence about the spread and control of bovine TB was reaching his committee all the time. It was being passed on to those responsible for formulating regional and national policies. But he warned that there could be no quick, simplistic fix.

Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Assembly’s rural affairs minister, admitted that he was very worried about the spread of TB and the fact that paying compensation drained 10m a year from his budget.

He hoped that the largely independent TB action group he had set up, which had representatives of farming and wildlife interests, would come up with intensive treatment ideas for hotspots.