5 April 2002

TB spirals upwards as

tests fail to keep pace

By Jonathan Riley

and Johann Tasker

TUBERCULOSIS is soaring among cattle on British farms because the government is failing to keep pace with tests designed to eradicate the disease.

More than three herds are going down with the disease every day, according to government figures obtained by FARMERS WEEKLY. New incidents of bovine TB were confirmed on 184 farms during the first two months this year. Another 71 outbreaks were unconfirmed and a further 96 herds are awaiting test results.

Bovine TB could be much more widespread than previously feared. Tests are overdue on almost 27,000 farms. Although officials managed to clear 2100 herds from a backlog built up during the foot-and-mouth crisis, a further 3258 farms were added to the waiting-list as they did so. The net effect means the logjam continues to grow.

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster described the figures as frightening. "Its an alarming rise but perhaps more worrying is the indication that the backlog in farms waiting for testing seemed to grow by over 1000 last month," he said.

"The real issue is one of under-funding. The department needs more cash to fight TB but the pot of cash that government makes available is diminishing. Privately I have heard DEFRA officials say that they need enough cash to cope with an annual rise of up to 20% in TB cases. Our estimation suggests the rise could be up to 36%."

Many vets who normally carry out bovine TB tests have been busy testing livestock on farms restocking after foot-and-mouth. A DEFRA spokeswoman said: "These figures are to the end of February when we didnt have the full complement of vets available. As more and more vets come back into the system, the backlog will be cleared."

But Mr Forster said the disease could cost more than foot-and-mouth unless the government took urgent action such as tackling bovine TB in wildlife.

"The annual TB research bill alone is £21m when you add to that compensation costs and bills for manpower used in testing the total cost by 2005 will be astronomical," he added.

The Krebs trial set up to compare the results of three badger culling strategies on bovine TB levels is due to end in 2005. Mr Forster said he didnt want to see all badgers killed but waiting until 2005, without an interim plan to tackle the disease reservoirs in wildlife, would be foolhardy. &#42