30 August 2002

TB restrictions cause increasing frustration

By Marianne Curtis

WITH nearly 3% of UK cattle herds under TB restrictions producers, particularly in previously TB-free areas, are feeling increasingly frustrated by the restrictions this places upon their businesses.

Latest figures from DEFRA, covering January to June, show that out of 101,903 cattle herds, 2789 were under restrictions and nearly 17,000 tests are overdue. Of herds not tested by their scheduled date, DEFRA has placed restrictions on 226.

Producers have come in for criticism for delaying TB tests (News, Aug 23) which could result in them being placed under restrictions when this occurs repeatedly, says a DEFRA spokesperson.

Restrictions are a fact of life for clients of Wood Vet Group in Glos, where TB tests are six monthly or yearly, with one-third of herds under restriction at any time. Vet Chris Watson says although unwelcome, clients have learned to cope with them.

"Herds often experience a TB cycle. Most breakdowns occur in autumn and winter. Herds will be clear by the time they are turned out to graze, then come into contact with a TB reservoir and breakdown again the following autumn."

For most dairy herds, because few animals usually move off farms, restrictions cause minimal problems, he says. "Frequently, the only animals moving off are bull calves. DEFRA allows these to move, provided there is TB testing on the farm they are going to."

However, the disease causes more of a problem for beef herds selling stores, he admits. "Some producers buying stores are willing to accept cattle from herds under restriction and go under restriction themselves. Farms producing stores also plan to sell them before the herd is due for TB testing."

In addition, DEFRA has recently allowed local herds losing a large proportion of breeding animals to restock almost immediately to reduce profit losses, he says.

Mr Watson believes there has been a rather hysterical reaction to TB restrictions from some quarters. "In areas which are not used to dealing with TB, there has been a tendency for people to shout before they have explored the possibilities."

But having no solution to offer clients with reactors year after year is frustrating, he says. "The whole area of TB needs greater exploration. More work could be done on how to stop the infection getting into cattle. With commercial investment, Im sure a vaccine could be produced more quickly than currently scheduled."

Unlike Glos, until recently, Cumbria only had one confirmed case of TB a year. But restocking appears to have increased TB incidence, says DEFRA divisional vet manager for the county Andrew Hayward. "So far this year we have had 20 reactors in five herds. Of these, four were restocked herds."

The countys TB testing frequency has run on a four-year interval to date, but restocking herds are being prioritised for testing to reduce TB risk, says Mr Hayward. "We have tested 60% of restocked herds and hope to have completed all of them by the end of the year.

But it is too early to say whether Cumbria will remain relatively TB free, says Mr Hayward. "There are two factors which mean we cannot afford to be complacent. Large numbers of animals have been brought into Cumbria for restocking and with little testing last year, we dont know the TB status of considerable numbers of these."

Along with other vets, Mr Hayward urges producers sourcing animals from areas with a high TB testing frequency to have a private TB test done on these before delivery. &#42