threat over TB
By Johann Tasker
GOVERNMENT animal health advisers are examining new ways of reducing tuberculosis in cattle amid mounting fears that some European countries will demand a new ban on exports of British beef if the disease is allowed to spiral out of control.
In a move which indicates that ministers are determined to prevent a BSE-style crisis, scientists are now working on methods of reducing or even eliminating the cattle-to-cattle transfer of the disease. The work is in addition to the ongoing Krebs trial, which is focusing on the role of badgers in the transfer of TB to dairy and beef herds.
Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker said the government considered the threat of TB as second only to BSE in importance.
"Were trying to deal with what is a very serious animal health issue in this country," he said. "Its the second most important – on a different scale I accept – but the second most important animal health issue weve got to deal with next to BSE."
Unpublished MAFF figures show a huge year-on-year increase of TB in cattle, with a rise of almost 60% in some parts of the country. About 700 herds are under restriction following a 35% increase in cases last year.
Although the risks to humans from bovine TB are minimal, the government fears that the boom in statistics could prompt calls for a reintroduction of the recently lifted export ban on British beef.
Earlier this month, more than 30 countries meeting in Europe criticised the governments Krebs trial. Mr Rooker denied TB was out of control but accepted that those countries could demand that the export ban was reimposed unless TB outbreaks were reduced.
"If we allowed TB to get out of control in our cattle [these people] would be the first to queue up calling for a further ban on British beef and British cattle and British dairy products," said Mr Rooker. "Were not going to be put in that position."
Scientific advice on reducing cattle-to-cattle TB outbreaks will be made available to MAFF early in 1999 – possibly as soon as January. One potential method of reducing TB transfer between herds could be the inclusion of animal health information on cattle passports. But the involvement of scientists advising MAFF suggests that more substantive methods are also being examined.
However, in a move that is likely to dismay the NFU, Mr Rooker ruled out additional localised badger culls to reduce TB on farms outside the trial areas.