Call for tough measures to prevent TB spread

A Conservative MP has called for tougher bovine TB measures to be imposed on cattle before they are allowed to be moved into the north of England.

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, said that Scotland’s rigorous pre-movement testing strategy should be introduced for Cumbria to prevent the continued spread of the disease from other parts of the England and Wales.

His call was prompted by the unexpected outbreak of TB in the county earlier this year and he urged farmers in the north to bring TB control to the top of their agenda.

“Endemic TB does not occur in Cumbria but the biggest threat to cattle farmers is through animal movements coming in from TB-infected regions. This was almost certainly the cause of this year’s outbreak in Penrith,” said Mr Stewart.

“We need much stronger measures to prevent Cumbria developing endemic TB but there also has to be a greater recognition among Cumbria farmers of the potentially devastating impact this disease could have. They must be prepared to look at radical measures,” said Mr Stewart.

While more regular testing – as well as blood testing instead of skin testing – would help in part, Mr Stewart believed the ultimate control strategy is the introduction into Cumbria of the existing regime operating in Scotland. Cumbria and south-west Scotland comprise the largest milk field in the UK.

“It’s a tough regime but it is working. Scotland is free of TB and that’s what we want for Cumbria. It would mean that any animal that had been out of a four-year testing zone during its life would have to be tested. This system means that Scottish farmers rarely buy cows which have ever been out of a four-year testing zone.”

Mr Stewart said that the current policy of self-regulation was not effective in halting the spread of TB into Cumbria “because there will always be those people who will take risks”.

He has now called on the county’s cattle farmers to make a firm commitment to his proposals before he can formally present his ideas to Whitehall.

“The cost and the horror of living with endemic TB is so extreme that tough decisions must be taken. We now need to see Cumbria farmers commit to the restrictions and extra cost this strategy would involve so that we can move ahead without delay.”

Dairy farmer Robert Craig, Cumbria NFU chairman, said Rory Stewart’s proposals were “absolutely right”.

“This is an important opportunity to stop the spread of TB into Cumbria. If we don’t take steps to deal with this now we’ll be in exactly the same situation as Cheshire within 10 years’ time. Cumbria farmers have to get behind this,” said Mr Craig.