8 June 2001

Cases of cattle TB rising at an alarming rate

By Richard Allison

CONFIRMED cases of cattle TB were up 16% in 2000 compared with 1999, and the triplet research project set up to find solutions for combating TB is now at a standstill.

The chief vets annual report on animal health in the UK states that new cases of cattle TB were recorded in 933 herds, compared with 804 in 1999. The increases were mainly in the south-west, while reductions were seen in Staffs, Derbyshire and East Sussex.

Chief vet Jim Scudamore says that although some parts of the UK are responding to control measures, other areas show an increase, which is a major concern. But he believes the existing strategy should eventually bring improvements.

But Richard Sibley of the British Cattle Veterinary Association says it is optimistic to think that the existing strategy will control the disease. "The increase is disappointing, but not unexpected. We need to get to grips with TB, as it continues to increase year on year."

NFU animal health committee chairman Brian Jennings says the increase is in line with observations on the ground by producers and NFU predictions. "It shows that TB is spreading at an alarming rate," he adds.

"The problem is being made worse by foot-and-mouth as vets are currently preoccupied with controlling F&M. There are some TB-positive cattle still on farms as it is taking some time to remove them. This is concerning producers as it will spread to other cattle in the herd, increasing their losses."

All TB testing was also suspended in February at the start of the F&M outbreak, causing a growing backlog of routine testing. Mr Sibley is concerned that undiagnosed infection will be spreading within herds. "Routine testing has just resumed in our practice, although on a limited scale."

The MAFF report says progress was made in 2000 on the triplet TB study looking at solutions for controlling the spread of the disease. But this is now on hold because the badger trapping and cattle testing teams were seconded to the F&M operation, says Mr Jennings.

"Badger trapping must be resumed shortly or the credibility of the project will start to suffer. The main problem is that half of the area in the study is within F&M restriction zones, so MAFF are in a difficult position."

Mr Sibley also warns about the risk of TB spreading into areas previously free of the disease when producers restock. In the last major outbreak, brucellosis, enzootic bovine leucosis and mycoplasmas were all brought into Cheshire by new stock.

"Producers can avoid this risk by following a restocking protocol. Both MAFF and the BCVA are taking this seriously and are meeting in early June to formulate guidance for producers." &#42

ANIMALHEALTH2000

&#8226 Confirmed cases of BSE were halved in 2000, with only 30 suspected BSE cases a week

&#8226 More than 62% of UK dairy herds and 84% of suckler herds never had a case of BSE.

&#8226 Cases of cattle TB were up by 16% compared with 1999.

&#8226 An outbreak of 16 cases of classical swine fever occurred in 2000, resulting in nearly 75,000 pigs being slaughtered.