Did you think I’d stopped thinking about bovine tuberculosis (bTB)? I haven’t and nor has our Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Here are two announcements from DEFRA today.
First announcement: There’s to be ‘zero tolerance’ of missed bTB tests. As you know bTB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. Farmers are required to have their cattle (Bos primigenius) tested for M. bovis. That’s called the ‘skin test’ or, if you want to be formal about it, the single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin (SICCT) test. Cattle which fail the skin test are slaughtered at great cost. Herds’ testing dates are set by law, depending on which part of the country they’re in. An update to those arrangements was announced in October 2012 by our Agriculture Minister, David Heath. Now under the new ‘zero tolerance’ strategy, farmers who miss their herds’ testing dates will face financial penalties. I wonder what farmers, and the farming press, will say about that.
Meanwhile badgers (Meles meles) are being shot in part of England, because some people consider them a reservoir of bTB. I’ve mentioned before how other people think this is the wrong strategy. That the real problem is cattle being moved around, giving M. bovis to each other. In August 2012 Mr Heath announced badger vaccination, and more skin testing of cattle, in ‘edge areas’. That means areas around the places where bTB is rife.
What do you think? Second announcement: stakeholders (‘individuals, organisations and businesses in England that have an interest in livestock farming’) are invited to give opinions on proposed new rules to prevent bTB transmission between cattle herds.
I’ve mentioned before how not everybody agrees with DEFRA’s aim to eradicate bTB. But the Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England (2011) is still in place. That plan is supposed to bring us into line with our neighbours in parts of Western and Northern Europe. You might look at what Frank Verdonck of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says about bTB in the European Union (EU). The map on page 4 of that report show how England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland still have bTB, like several other EU countries.
For bTB, DEFRA wants to bring us into line with the rest of Europe. Do you agree?