3 March 2000

Cull older cows now to hasten BSEs end: NBA

By Isabel Davies

THE National Beef Association is urging producers to consider culling all elderly cows in order to accelerate the eradication of BSE in the national herd.

The association says the industry should consider culling all cows over 10 years of age in 2005/6 in an attempt to put an end to "the blemish" of BSE and move a step closer to the end of the Over Thirty Month Scheme.

Despite a dramatic drop in BSE cases, NBA chief executive Robert Forster said other countries were still nervous about the levels of BSE in UK animals.

Although cases have dropped from their peak of 1000 cases a week in early 1993, MAFF still expects there to be a total of around 950 cases confirmed in 2000.

If this is the case and there is a rolling reduction of 45% a year, then the NBA estimates the number of BSE cases will not fall below 100 until 2004 and 20 until at least 2007.

Many countries, including the French, were uneasy about SRM controls and the Over Thirty Month Scheme, said Mr Forster, because they regarded the schemes as evidence that the UK still had a problem.

It would be to the advantage of the industry to bring the post BSE-era forward, he argued. Removing the tail end of the epidemic would open up international markets and make it easier to get rid of restrictive controls, including export curbs and the OTMS.

"In these circumstances it sounds like common-sense to bring forward the extinction of BSE by killing off all cows that are more than 10-11 years old," he said.

"It is clear that the beef industry would benefit hugely if BSE is wiped out sooner rather than later and obvious that it must soon begin to move collectively towards agreeing the ideal solution."

Mr Forster argued that the impact of such a cull could be minimised if producers started planning. Farmers were already starting to reduce the age of their herds to get closer to genetic advances, he said.

Cost is key

Stephen Rossides, NFU head of livestock, said he understood the motives of the suggestion but it would need a cost benefit exercise to see if it was worthwhile culling.

"We would want to consider the cost benefit of such an exercise – whether the advantages outweigh the costs bearing in mind some farmers do hold older cows. And also to see what it would mean in veterinary terms."

There could be no question of such a cull unless the government paid full compensation to farmers, he added. &#42