27 November 1998

Bovine TBrisen by up to 60% – MAFF

By Jonathan Riley

GOVERNMENT figures, due to be published soon, are expected to show a huge rise in cases of tuberculosis in cattle, with a year-on-year rise of well over 50% in some parts of the country.

About 700 herds are under restriction, after a 35% increase in cases last year.

But the new figures, expected to be released by MAFF in the next few weeks, show that some areas of the UK, such as Wales, have recorded an unprecedented rise close to 50% this year.

Other areas are well above the 50% mark and closer to 60%, while the number of animals infected in each outbreak is also on the up, according to a source close to MAFF.

Another development this year is that clusters of TB infection have erupted in areas where the disease was previously unknown. One area, close to the New Forest, Hampshire, is of extreme concern to the farming industry, with fears that a large population of wild deer could become infected and act as a reservoir for the disease.

If that happened, TB in the area would be almost impossible to eradicate, said Brian Jennings, chairman of the NFU animal health and welfare committee. He called for badger culling to begin again around the forest to create a "firebreak" against the disease.

Mr Jennings also predicted that the number of TB infected cattle across the country would rise from 3760 this year to over 5000 next year. "Surely that puts the restrictions on badger culling into perspective," he added.

Chairman of the National Beef Associations TB committee, Barry Jones, was unequivocal in blaming increase in badger populations which had occurred since culling stopped.

And he called on the government to reintroduce badger culling in areas that will not be involved in the governments TB control trial.

"We also need compensation to be increased from 100% of the culled animals value to include consequential losses which are incurred when farms are prevented from selling milk and cattle.

"Costs for extra housing and grazing do not figure at the moment and, during the current financial crisis, this can be the make or break of a farm," he said.

&#8226 John Bourne, chairman of the independent scientific group that designed the governments trials, and a team of senior vets and MAFF officials have teamed up with the National Beef Association to host a meeting on the TB crisis. It will take place in Launceston, Cornwall, on Dec 1.