Frustrated pig sector calls on Defra to review TB rules

Pig sector frustration is mounting around current bovine tuberculosis (TB) control measures which have been labelled as disproportionate and equivalent to “treating pigs like curly-tailed cows”.

National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies, along with other senior pig veterinarians, are calling for a review of the current “risk averse” policy.

The NPA has questioned the practicality of the three options pig farmers currently face when under a TB lockdown.

See also: Top tips to pass a pigs farm assurance scheme audit

According to the NPA, these options are:

1. Slaughter with cleansing and disinfection: Unpopular with sow herds and pedigree breeders. Potentially OK for all-in/all-out fatteners.

2. Skin testing of entire adult herd: Difficult and potentially dangerous for farm staff, vets and the pigs themselves. Possible for smaller producers. Skin test is unvalidated in pigs.

3. Abattoir surveillance and post-mortem surveillance of all adult on-farm culls/losses: Post-mortem surveillance on all culls and losses is a completely new element and presents both cost and logistical problems. It will take at least two or three years and only really works for large herds with varied results.

Dr Davies told Farmers Weekly: “Defra has decided that slaughter surveillance isn’t sensitive enough, so farms are now in a position where, unless they decide to cull out, or try the skin test route, which for a 1,000 sow herd is completely unrealistic and unsafe, they are stuck under restrictions for a minimum of two years.”

The NPA is lobbying for:

  • Shorter restriction periods on pigs and herds only to come under restrictions once TB is confirmed
  • Better test accuracy
  • More AFUs (approved finishing units) for finishing pigs from restricted units

Small issue in pigs

Wiltshire-based pig vet and George Vet Group director Richard Pearson said that most pig farms that come under TB restrictions do so through tuberculous lesions being identified during abattoir surveillance.

“It’s easy to criticise Defra and the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) for their policies, but they are in a difficult position,” Mr Pearson said.

“Their approach, however, does appear somewhat disproportionate in terms of risk when considering the epidemiology of bovine TB in pigs, which are generally considered dead-end hosts.”

Defra response

A Defra spokesperson said: “While it is rare, pigs are susceptible to M.bovis infection and it would be wrong to ignore this. Restrictions pending evidence that the disease has been eliminated from a pig herd are sensible and proportionate.”

When asked whether Defra was considering a risk-based approach (farm restrictions or surveillance based on TB-risk zones), the spokesperson said that restrictions are only imposed on suspicion of disease and evidence of infection cannot be ignored.


Pigs and TB: APHA TB figures 2011-2017

Year Number of herds tested (live animals) Premises placed under movement restriction due to TB or M.bovis infection Total pigs slaughtered (reactors and suspected cases) Infected animals at post mortem
2011 7 12 20
2012 19 18 166
2013 8 30 19 32
2014 21 28 7 11
2015 7 19 9 6
2016 30 42 12 19
2017 24 47 13 18

9 ways to reduce the risk of TB in your pigs

  1. Prevent nose-to-nose contact with other infected pigs of farmed livestock – it is an obvious risk
  2. Reduce contact with wildlife such as deer or wild boar and badgers
  3. Bovine TB-infected badger urine or mucus can contaminate farrowing beds so that when newborn piglets inhale into the bed or suckle they become infected
  4. Check the security and badger-proofing of home mill and mix units using homegrown grain and consider the risk of bought-in grain being contaminated by TB-infected badgers
  5. Prevent access to feed stores
  6. Side of buildings should be solid and smoothand at least 1.5m high to prevent badgers climbing 
  7. Gaps around gates/doors and in buildings walls should be no wider than 7.5cm wide to exclude badgers
  8. Ensure that where exclusion measures are in place, hard floors prevent badgers from digging
  9. Electric fencing can exclude badgers from farm buildings and paddocks – have wire strands 10,15, 20 and 30cm above the ground – do not obstruct badgers from accessing their sets.

Source: NPA