Defra bovine TB figures show downward trend for England

Farmers and vets in England have welcomed the latest bovine TB figures which show a reduction in cattle slaughterings and new herd breakdowns.

Defra published its latest TB cattle statistics for Great Britain on Wednesday (12 February), which summarise data to November 2019.

The figures show that over the past 12 months 31,562 TB-infected cattle were slaughtered in England – a drop of 4% year-on-year.

In the High Risk Area (HRA) of the South West, 5% fewer infected cattle were slaughtered (23,412).

See also: 5 ways to improve TB control in the UK

The number of new herd incidents for England has also edged downwards to 3,311 – a 9% reduction. In the HRA, an 11% drop was recorded, down from 2,808 to 2,502.

In Wales, however, the total number of TB-infected cattle slaughterings has increased 14% in the 12 months to November 2019 – to 12,354 from 10,836.

Commenting on the figures, Gloucestershire beef farmer David Barton said: “We are in a downward trend, which is what we want to see.

“Defra’s current TB policy is working and the evidence continues to support that. We are making progress.

“As for Wales, it is fairly evident you cannot control this disease without dealing with the wildlife vector, which is badgers in the UK. The statistics tell the story.”

He added: “We should look at these results and celebrate all the hard work that has gone into this by farmers across England. It’s not easy, but we are getting results and reducing TB.

“Every other devolved administration should look at these figures and tell their farmers why they can’t do that (cull badgers).”

Farmers engaging with controls

Derbyshire-based vet Sarah Tomlinson, of Westpoint Farm Vets, said: “Looking at the national trend it looks like TB cases are coming down. That’s really positive news.

“It’s a reaction to the industry engaging with the TB controls and being more aware of purchasing and biodiversity risk.”

Ms Tomlinson, who is also a TB Advisory Service advisor and a member of the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG), added that continuing support and funding for both was essential to offer farmers the best advice.  

“My favourite message to farmers is that TB lives for 60 days in water. If you have got any infected badgers sharing your water troughs with cattle, why would you not want to raise your troughs,” she said.

Ms Tomlinson also welcomed the appointment of George Eustice as Defra secretary. “The worry was we would get a new minister who did not value TB, then all the hard work of the last seven years would be lost.”

Defra statement

A Defra spokesman said: “It is encouraging to see the improvements in these statistics as we know that Bovine TB is a slow-moving, insidious disease which presents many challenges.

“It is difficult to detect and can be harboured in the wildlife population.

“There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer to beating the disease – that is why we are pursuing a wide range of interventions as part of a 25-year strategy to eradicate TB in England and continue to work with our many stakeholders including farmers.

“The government will also set out its next steps to tackle bTB by responding to Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s bovine TB strategy review in due course.”