Huge drop in bovine TB levels

THE number of cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB (bTB) fell by 25 per cent over the first three months of this year to just over 9,000, the latest official figures show.

The drop was not consistent across the country, however, with big falls in some hotspot areas, including much of the South West and Dyfed, in Wales, but increases in incidence in some counties, notably Staffordshire.

There is no clear explanation as to why such a big decline in disease levels has been recorded but a number of reasons have been suggested, including improved control controls, a switch to Dutch tuberculin and the naturally fluctuating nature of TB incidence.

A Defra spokesman urged ‘caution’ when interpreting the short-term changes, insisting it was ‘too early to draw any firm conclusions as to whether this is a temporary change or the start of a sustained reduction’. “It will take a long time to be clear whether this is an actual change in the incidence trend or some statistical anomaly,” he said.

He pointed out temporary lows in TB incidence were recorded in 2004 and 2006 in what has been an otherwise upward curve over the past 13 years.

The Badger Trust has claimed that the figures show cattle controls are working and that badger culling is unnecessary.

The Defra spokesman said, however, that the government’s position ‘remains that it is committed to carefully-managed and science-led badger control as part of a package of measures’,  that could include vaccination and culling.

He played down suggestions that a switch to 100 per cent usage of Dutch tuberculin to perform the skin test midway through last year, after the Veterinary Laboratories Agency’s Weybridge plant ceased production, could be a factor.

The 2006 dip also coincided with a switch to Dutch tuberculin after production ceased at Weybridge. A Defra review at the time concluded that the switch ‘could be a small contributory factor’ to the reduction in TB incidence as the Dutch tuberculin is ‘marginally less potent’ at picking up disease at early stages, although it may detects more disease at the later stages. The report concluded that this ‘contribution’ to lower recorded levels was ‘not expected to be large’.

The Defra spokesman said this week: “The most recent analyses continue to show that the differences in performance between the two products are small and unlikely to be the cause of the current decline.”

Bovine TB figures

Defra figures for GB for the first quarter of 2010 show:

  • A 25 per cent drop in TB related cattle slaughterings to 9122 from 12,175 in the first quarter of 2009.
  • A 10 per cent fall in herd incidents to 1,387 from 1,543.
  • A 13 per cent drop in herds under restriction to 4,645 from 5,344.
  • A 31 per cent drop to 4,861 cattle slaughtered in the west, England’s most affected region.
  • A 77 per cent RISE in England’s north region to 1,543 cattle slaughtered, including a big rise in Staffordshire.
  • A 64 per cent drop to 2,255 cattle slaughtered in Wales, including a 49 drop in Dyfed.

Why are national TB levels falling?

Cattle measures?

“This is very heartening, although they have got to be treated with caution as it they are only quarterly figures. It would appear to be a further indication that robust cattle measures are sufficient to control TB.”

Badger Trust media spokesman Jack Reedy

Dutch tuberculin?

“This appears to be excellent news but it is 25 per cent of a massive figure and still much higher than 10 years ago.

“However, this isn’t unprecedented. The last time we saw this in 2006, it appeared to be linked to imported Dutch tuberculin and we saw a massive rise the following year. We hope this isn’t the case again and that this is a real drop.”

Farmers Union of Wales director of agricultural Policy Nick Fenwick

A blip?

“My feeling is that this is probably just a blip, the sort of thing that has happened before while we still have this relentlessly upward underlying trend over many years. There really hasn’t been much change in cattle controls over the last three or four years so I don’t see how that can be a factor.”

Jan Rowe, NFU TB spokesman

Readers' comments (9)

  • This is good news, long may it continue.
    I think that every farmer in the country should be lobbying their MP to get the TB test updated to a test that is 100% accurate, the big problem as I see it is not the badger, but the test.
    The Test is old and out of date and only 80% accurate, this is a disgrace, as cows are still turning up in abattoirs with bTB, which makes a mockery of all the culling that has gone on, and all the money we have spent to try and prove a link between badger and cow.

    I don't doubt that badgers have the disease, but at the end of the day it is a cattle disease, and should be dealt with in the cow first, and this cannot be done until the test is sorted out.
    Please don't waste any more time and money on calling for the culling of wildlife, concentrate on getting the test right and you will be half way to sorting out this problem once and for all.

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  • Like some of those quoted in the report, I too would urge caution - not just in interpretation of these figures (which are of course excellent news), but also on the part of those who wish to carry out badger culls. The best available scientific evidence shows that killing badgers could actually lead to an increase in cattle TB: is it really worth risking that when there is the possibility that the start of a sustained reduction has begun thanks to cattle-based control measures?

    I also agree with Janice regarding the TB testing regime. EU law requires the use of the skin test, but it also allows the use of the gamma interferon test alongside it. Greater use of this, and more frequent testing outside of those areas already subject to annual (or more frequent) testing, would do much to drive down the disease.

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  • Whilst the new UK government begins baying for badgers blood, following the mismanaged "cull" debacle Elin Jones and her chief vet sidekick Christiana Glossop have been responsible for, bovine TB rates are actually falling in Wales and most other parts of the UK. This despite increased testing.

    This will no doubt be a continuing trend after the peak caused by farmers moving infected cattle from TB hotspots to replace herds slaughtered during the Foot and Mouth outbreak and could have been used by Glossop and Jones as evidence of the effectiveness of the cull, had it gone ahead!

    You might think that everyone should be baying for the blood of the clowns responsible for what is plainly a man made, (certainly not badger made) epidemic but the massive farming lobby seems able to smokescreen any evidence even this

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  • This is good news, so far. I only hope that IF there is a sudden rise in cases again, the people in power remember that it has happened before when switching to the Dutch tuberculin and they don't start blaming the badger population again.

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  • I will not say I told you so!, but the Badger and wildlife lovers were right all along, The next step is to reduce the need for meat and dairy. The world needs to enter a new and caring way of living when no creature human or otherwise is exploited. We can do it; all it needs is a little compassion. I could go on about the reasons why we should take this step but as most of this as already been said I will not bore you.

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  • I had something rather fascinating brought to my attention today.....anyone else heard of anergy to a skin test? Apparently some cattle can become anergic, and therefore not react to the tb baccillus, showing as negative. Only if they are tested using the gamma interferon will they show up as positive. In fact, on cow showed up as negative on no less than 11 tests, going on to infect three of her calves. I've also found out that tb can be passed in water, ie down stream cattle can become infected by herds upstream. Why is it we are so sure unexpected breakdowns are due to badgers again?

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  • The United Nations agrees with Stripy Badger:

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  • my message is to farmers and farmers only. not blaguards like vets defra that are conning farmers up to their eye balls. idiots talking skin tests , but farmers being conned right left and cetre .. for the past fifty years .. could i or any farmer in gb or ireland be shown an animal cow or badger with tb liasions on the carcas . the answer is defenetly no no no .. tb is about three things money politics . and trade.. if i had a say in goverment my first priority would be to jail these bl aguards for life, and scrap the tb scandal thats costing 2billion ayear and farmers livelyhoods .destroyed ,, the biggest joke of all is putting these t b deseased animals into the food chain,, farmers please please wake up to this scandall and i mean lady farmers as well..if farmers need a simple solution to this scandel and corruption contact me in ireland at 06398271 G B 003536398271 AT NIGHT IF POSSIBLE CHEERIO JAMES

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