The number of cattle slaughtered with bovine tuberculosis during the first five months of 2007 was up 21% compared to the same period last year, the latest statistics published by DEFRA have revealed.
Most worryingly, the instance of disease also rose 19% compared with the same period last year, signifying its continued spread into previously uninfected areas. The number of herds under TB2 restriction rose 6% to 6739.
Since 2002, when routine testing was resumed after the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the number of cattle slaughtered in Great Britain for TB control purposes has risen to 133,935.
During the period up to 31 May a total of 12,160 cattle were slaughtered compared to 10,049 in the first five months of 2006. However, the increase in new herd instances is to be expected as the number of tests performed also rose. The number of herds tested rose 4% to 27,472 while the number of cattle tested also rose 7% to 2,967,447.
Commenting on the figures, Badger Trust spokesman Trevor Lawson said the figures suggested the disease was “starting to plateau out” thanks to increased surveillance. But he was critical of DEFRA for not using the gamma interferon test more extensively, saying “efforts have to be stepped up”.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond reacted strongly to Mr Lawson’s comments, describing the situation facing the industry as “horrendous”. “I accept increased testing will undoubtedly uncover more infected animals, but a 21% increase in herd breakdowns does not in anyway suggest that the disease is starting to ‘plateau out’.
“On the contrary it’s an horrendous prospect and one that suggests that the disease will continue to spread at a seemingly unstoppable rate.”
He added: “Such remarks do little to inform the debate. It is in everyone’s interest – government, farmers and wildlife groups – that action is taken to attack the disease in all vectors. Farm businesses across the country are being ravaged by this disease and the current government policy is doing nothing to address the situation. DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn has asked the farming community to judge him on his actions on this issue we will gladly do that.”