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?
“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
“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
“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