No solution in sight for cattle TB, say experts
By Jessica Buss
THERE is no scientific base for a short-term solution to cattle TB and producers will have to wait some time for answers to this growing problem.
While experts at last weeks TB: The Facts conference at the Bath and West showground were concerned about TB spread, more questions than answers means any control measures introduced now could cause further disease spread.
Conference chairman and Somerset vet Roger Eddy said TB is one of the most serious diseases affecting cattle because of the effect on daily running of herds. "There are currently 1200 herds under restriction and the problem is getting worse each year."
John Bourne of the governments Independent Scientific Group (ISG), told the audience that TB eradication will never be achieved in the UK, but hopefully control of TBwill.
"Some countries have eradicated TB, but those with a wildlife reservoir can only expect control." He admits that badgers are involved in TBs spread, but cattle to cattle transmission is also be a factor and there may be other wildlife involved.
"One trial at Thornbury, Bristol, where 100sq km was cleared of badgers, eliminated TB in cattle for many years," he said. However, another study found that removing badgers from an area may result in spread of badgers from neighbouring areas which could increase TB incidence.
"We recognise the data available is inadequate. Until we find answers there is no sound basis for controlling TB in England," said Prof Bourne.
But experts admit there is little known about TB in badgers. Badgers could be responsible for 5% or 95% of the TB in cattle, Rosie Woodroffe of Warwick University told the conference.
Cattle-to-cattle transmission also needs further investigation. MAFFs chief vet Jim Scudamore said that in Scotland, cattle imported from Ireland were blamed for TB breakdowns, rather than badgers.
"Some farmers want to kill badgers. But that isnt sustainable. We need a scientifically based control policy for TB."
Prof Bourne said that research is in place to develop a control strategy scientifically.
"But we have nothing positive to give producers in the short term," he added.
A key part of the ISG trials is the triplet sites, but it could be up to seven years before all results are collected (see p46). However, he urged cattle producers and wildlife groups to allow the scientific group to get on with these trials without interference.
But results may be available from other research sooner, such as the TB99 questionnaire, completed by producers in breakdown areas.
In the meantime, MAFFs booklet TB in Cattle, Reducing the Risk offers help to identify risk areas, said Brain Jennings, NFU animal health committee chairman and south west beef producer.
But the NFU is keen to offer more help, and Mr Jennings said it recognises the first few days in a breakdown are traumatic for all involved. The NFU hopes to launch a document which will answer producers key questions and offer a helpline manned by producers who have experienced a TB breakdown in their herd.
The financial burden of a breakdown was also hard to cope with. The cost for an average farm is £3000 a month and a typical breakdown lasts 10 months, said Mr Jennings. Producers were grateful for government help, but it didnt cover consequential losses and insurance was not feasible in high risk areas.
"But we should seek a national compensation scheme for farms with TB." Some producers and insurance companies have suggested a TB levy scheme which could collect funds from producers, insurance companies and hopefully MAFF. It is being considered by MAFF, he added.
• No short-term solution.
• Killing badgers may not help.
• Eradication not possible.