More than 36,000 TB-infected cattle slaughtered in 2015

The number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB jumped to 36,270 in 2015 – a year-on-year increase of 10%, according to the latest Defra figures.

The figures also showed more than 3,950 herds in England that had previously been clear of the disease were affected by it in 2015.

Dairy and beef herds in Wales were among the worst affected by TB, where cases shot up by almost one-third (27%) last year to 8,103 from 6,379 in 2014.

See also: Culled badgers in Defra pilot could be tested for TB

Bovine TB cases also rose by 9% in the high-risk area of England, which includes the West Midlands and South West.

However, there was a year-on-year decrease of TB reactors slaughtered in the low-risk and edge areas of England and in Scotland of -11%, -9% and -42%, respectively.

The Defra report, on the incidence and prevalence of TB in cattle in Great Britain – to end December 2015, noted “wide geographical variations” in disease levels across England, which was reflected by different control strategies and testing regimes.

However, the report suggested there was evidence of a “slowing down” in both the incidence and prevalence rates of TB since about 2012.

Defra introduced a four-year pilot cull of badgers, a known reservoir of TB, in Gloucestershire and Somerset in autumn 2013 as part of its 25-year programme to eradicate the disease.

The cull was extended to the third county of Dorset last year and Defra secretary Liz Truss has pledged to bring culling to more counties where TB is rife.

NFU: Badger cull is working to cut TB rates

The NFU has said there is anecdotal evidence from farmers to suggest the cull was working to reduce TB in cattle. But Defra said it was too early to produce scientific proof of the effect of culling on TB rates.

Responding to the Defra report, the NFU said it reinforced the need to step up the fight against TB and ensure everything was done to tackle the disease effectively “on all fronts as a matter of urgency”.

Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said: “These figures make sombre reading for anyone who is fighting a daily battle against bovine TB or has experienced the devastation it can cause to a farming family business.

“Last year more than 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of this disease. That brings the total number of cattle slaughtered since 2008 to nearly 215,000.

“These figures reinforce the need for the government’s 25-year TB eradication strategy to be implemented in full as quickly as possible.  

“We have always said all available options need to be used – cattle movement controls, cattle testing and biosecurity all have a role to play. But dealing with the disease reservoir in wildlife in areas where it is endemic is a vital part of the strategy.”

‘TB biggest threat to Welsh cattle herds’

In Wales, farm leaders are urging ministers to introduce a badger-culling programme after the Welsh government announced it had suspended a badger vaccination project in Pembrokeshire due to a shortage in vaccine supplies.

Dylan Morgan, head of policy at NFU Cymru, said TB was “probably the biggest threat to cattle herds in Wales”.

He added: “The National Assembly elections are coming up and we are looking to see what the political parties are going to do to implement a comprehensive TB eradication policy in Wales.

“That means dealing with the problem in cattle and wildlife. No politician can hide behind a vaccination policy as a way to deal effectively with the issue in wildlife. That’s not on the agenda and is not likely to be for the foreseeable future.

“Unless we deal with the problem in cattle and in wildlife, we will not get on top of this disease.”

Farmers’ Union of Wales senior policy officer Hazel Wright added: “A raft of costly cattle controls means farmers continue to do their part in terms of controlling the disease, and accept cattle that represent a risk need to be destroyed.

“Welsh ministers need to recognise that other animals which represent a risk should also be controlled, and that to avoid the issue will simply make matters worse in the long run.”