Insurers need action on TB

PRIVATE INSURANCE policies for bovine TB cannot be used to replace state-funded compensation until DEFRA takes more action to control the disease, insurers and underwriters have said.

Using insurance to prop up or replace state compensation for TB and other diseases has been a long-held aim of the government.

But a meeting between DEFRA officials and insurers to discuss the issue at the University of Warwick on Oct 15 has ruled out the idea for now.

“We would need to see some action to control and reduce bovine TB before underwriters would be prepared to enter the market, especially in high-risk areas,” said Sophie Dunkerley, of Crowe Livestock Underwriters.

The opinion was endorsed by David Murray Wells, chairman of Agricultural Insurance Underwriting Agencies.

“If DEFRA could address the environment reservoir for TB and improve the testing methods to establish a low disease incidence then there is the possibility that a market for private insurance could be established,” he said.

The meeting was organised by the university‘s department of biology and Arical, a specialist agricultural loss adjuster.

During it delegates were told that even without any environmental reservoirs it would be virtually impossible to eradicate bovine TB from the UK‘s cattle population.

Research carried out in the Republic of Ireland which involved removing badgers from a farm infected with TB revealed that after two years TB was still detectable in the soil.

And cows were still being infected by M.Bovis present in the soil 12 months after the badgers were removed.

The research, due to be published in the journal of Applied Environmental Microbiology before the end of the year, will also reveal the role different soil types can have in increasing the number of false positives produced from the skin test. 

There is also the need to improve the accuracy of tests available to detect TB in cattle as the current skin tests produced false positives in 30% of cases, the meeting was told. 

Some of the underwriters attending said they would be unwilling to insure against TB when, in 30% of instances, the animal would have been mis-diagnosed.