Bovine TB-hit dairy farm trials rapid detection test

A Welsh dairy farm stricken by bovine TB is trialling a new blood test, which is hoped will help to rid the farm of the devastating disease in future.

Mossman Farm near Llangrannog, Ceredigion, has lost more than half of its herd over the past three years because of bovine TB.

Located in an area of chronic breakdown, to date, 312 TB-infected dairy cows from the spring-calving milking herd have been condemned.

See also: Counting the cost of bovine TB in Wales

But last spring, Wales’ chief vet granted permission for vet Robert Price-Jones, from  Llandysul, Ceredigion, to trial PBD Biotech’s Actiphage rapid blood test for M. bovis, the pathogen that causes this devastating disease.

Dairy farmer Chris Mossman said he agreed to trial Actiphage after hearing about the test’s use as part of a successful private TB eradication plan at Devon dairy farm Gatcombe.

“TB is a massive problem in Ceredigion, so when I heard about Actiphage’s use at Gatcombe, helping to clear that dairy herd for the first time in six years, I wanted to try to replicate those findings here,” said Mr Mossman.

Early disease detection

The developers, PBD Biotech, believe that Actiphage can revolutionise control of bovine TB by detecting the disease within six hours from a blood or milk sample, allowing affected cattle to be identified quickly before the infection spreads.

Vet Robert Price Jones takes blood for Actiphage test

© PBD Biotech

Mr Price-Jones, who has been leading the trial, said: “Actiphage can identify the presence of relatively low numbers of M. bovis in the bloodstream of infected cattle.

“It is not dependent upon an immune system response to the pathogen – in contrast to current validated tests – and so has greater sensitivity than the official tuberculin skin test.”

So far, 100 cows from Mossman Farming have been tested with Actiphage, and Mr Price-Jones is preparing a paper to publish the findings in early 2020.

Any decision to remove cattle based on a non-validated test will be at the farmer’s own expense, the Animal and Plant Health Agency has confirmed.

Where a positive result is confirmed with statutory tests, the animals will be removed with compensation paid as normal.

Record TB slaughterings

A record 12,799 cattle were slaughtered in Wales alone last year because of bovine TB – a 28% year-on-year increase, with one region recording a 190% increase.

Mr Mossman believes he may have lost up to 170 cattle unnecessarily after the Welsh government introduced its Enhanced Measures programme, which stipulates that all inconclusive reactors (IRs) must be removed for slaughter.

Mossman Farm is the first farm in Wales – and just one of a handful across the UK – to trial Actiphage.

Suffolk-based agri-tech firm PBD Biotech are seeking more farms in TB hotspots to trial Actiphage as it bids to get the test validated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).