£1bn could be cost if spread of TBgoes on

25 June 1999

£1bn could be cost if spread of TBgoes on

By Shelley Wright

IF the government continues to allow bovine tuberculosis to spread unchecked, the cost to farmers and taxpayers could run to about £1bn in the coming years, figures in a new NFU report suggest.

Assuming an annual increase in new herd outbreaks of 23%, the union forecasts that, by 2006 – when the governments current TB control trial is due to be completed – there will be a total of 4000 herd breakdowns a year in England and Wales. That compares with the current figure of just over 700 a year.

Brian Jennings, NFU animal health committee chairman, said the average cost to a farmer of a herd breakdown was £3000/month. On that basis, the total cost to farmers by 2006 would be £140m/year, the report – The Full Cost of TB in Cattle – says.

Huge increase

Taxpayers, too, would also face a huge increase in costs. Governments current annual spend on TB testing and compensation would rise from the current £9m to about £55m by 2006.

In total, therefore, the bill to farmers and taxpayers over the next seven years would be in the region of £830m. And it could be more. The predicted increase in the disease of 23% a year was, Mr Jennings accepted, likely to be the best-case scenario. Government figures for the past two years have shown a 40% rise in the numbers of new herd breakdowns.

To prevent not only the massive rise in costs, but also to minimise the stress on farming families, the union insisted that government action was imperative.

NFU president Ben Gill said: "These figures show the stark reality of a disease which is spiralling out of control and causing immense suffering to farmers and their families across more and more of Britain.

Not acceptable

"It is for this reason that any further delay in the implementation of the Krebs trial is simply not acceptable to all those with a concern for the welfare of the cattle industry and the welfare of the healthy badger."

Research in all 10 trial sites, recommended in the Krebs report, needed to be underway by the end of this year at the latest, said Mr Jennings.

More action was also needed outside the trial areas. That should incorporate additional testing, wildlife surveys and culling of badgers in areas with lingering bovine TB.

Compensation for farmers to cover consequential losses was also essential.

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