23 August 2002

TB test figures cause concern for government

By Isabel Davies

PLUMMETING numbers of TB tests have forced junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley to plead for farmers to help the government clear a massive backlog.

Vets carried out just 2500 herd tests last month, compared with 6445 in April. DEFRA officials are "very disappointed" by these figuures and the department is struggling to clear a backlog of 17,000 tests.

This backlog results from the suspension of all testing during last years foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Mr Morley said he understood that it was not the easiest time of year for farmers to have cattle tested because most animals were out at grass. "But the government cannot reduce the backlog of tests without the co-operation of the industry.

"It is easy for individual farmers to rely on others to keep the testing effort, but I am asking all of those who have an outstanding test but have postponed it to a more convenient moment to review their situation and see whether they cannot fit in a test after all."

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said the scale of the problem was such that farmers had to change their approach. "Farmers whose TB tests are late have a responsibility to have their animals tested."

Jan Rowe, vice-chairman of the NFUs animal health committee, said until the backlog was clear it was impossible to accurately assess the spread of the disease.

Meanwhile, West Sussex farmer Nick Adames, who has had five TB reactors since March, has called for greater consistency in TB policy. A combination of the reactors he has lost and the fact he could not restock during foot-and-mouth means he is milking 30 fewer cows than normal.

Mr Adames, who farms near Arundel, has been told he cannot bring any new animals on to his farm until he has a clear TB test. But producers in other areas, such as the West Country, have been allowed to bring in new animals for commercial reasons after a reactor (Livestock, Aug 9).

"If I can restock then my problems are minimised because Im able to generate the capital to maintain my business." &#42