26 July 2002

Vets voice major concerns over TB control delay

TB, lameness and welfare in organic systems were in the

spotlight at last weeks British Cattle Vet Association

conference in Newport, Gwent. Marianne Curtis reports

VETS attending the British Cattle Vet Association conference expressed impatience at the lack of progress being made by government over TB control.

In a question and answer session at the conference, vet Ron Fraser from Cornwall asked whether the panel believed badger culling should recommence in heavily infected TB areas.

Panelist and DEFRA chief vet Jim Scudamore said it should not. "We must continue with research into transmission method, get the Krebs trial back on track and clear the backlog of TB testing."

But with Krebs trial results three or four years away, vets wondered what should be done in the meantime. Axminster-based vet Tim Lawrence said badgers had an inability to ward off TB and were known excretors of the bacteria but feared even if Krebs recommended culling, it would not go ahead.

"We will end up kow towing to animal welfarists and must do something. We are simply delaying the inevitable because we are frightened of these people."

Other vets were concerned about how TB had spread into previously clear areas. One suggested recording on an animals BCMS certificate if it came from an area where TB tests were annual. "Otherwise it could move to an area where testing is only every three or four years and be incubating TB over that period."

Vet Jonathan Statham, from Ripon, North Yorks, said TB was proving a sad legacy of foot-and-mouth in his region.

"Colleagues have seen the first TB reactors appearing in this area, having never seen a reactor before. Some producers have restocked with cattle from the TB infected south-west with little pre-testing carried out."

Delays in government action over TB were intolerable, according to BCVA council member and Devon-based vet Dick Sibley. "How does DEFRA square the fact that although TB is a zoonotic disease with increasing incidence, it is prepared to do nothing about it while we wait four years for Krebs.

"Every other policy over diseases such as BSE and Johnes uses the precautionary principle, yet it hasnt even been proven that Johnes is a zoonosis."

However, Mr Scudamore was unconvinced that currently bovine TB presented a significant human health hazard.

"Pasteurised milk is not a TB risk and testing of producer-retailers milk is a priority. The main potential risk is to producers or abattoir workers but there is little evidence bovine TB has spread into humans through these routes.

"DEFRA works closely with the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency to ensure the situation is monitored and advice provided." &#42