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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Causes of bovine TB spreading not so black and white

Those who advocate that the culling of badgers is the only way to stop the spreading of bovine TB will hopefully have been disabused of that simplistic notion by the results of a new study which shows that such activity has 'relatively little impact' as the animals are not to blame for most cases of tuberculosis in cattle.

The Telegraph reports that researchers from Cambridge and Warwick universities have found over the past 15 years it is infected cows, which have been brought to a farm that are the most likely cause of the disease:

They said that 10 per cent of farms were acting as “super-spreaders” because they moved animals around frequently.

Academics from the universities concluded that the only way to halt the disease was through culls of entire herds of diseased animals, on the scale of those seen in the foot and mouth outbreak.

But that would mean 20 times more animals being killed than are slaughtered each year at present. They said that the best way to halt the disease is through widespread testing and vaccination programmes or culling infected herds.

Prof Matthew Keeling said: “We find only three controls have the power to reverse the current increase in cases, more frequent or more accurate testing, vaccination of cattle and culling all cattle on infected farms.”

What is staggering is that 84 per cent of outbreaks are caused by the movement of infected cattle, by infected fields or wildlife and by the failure of tests to detect diseased cattle.

I do not advocate the mass culling of cattle anymore than I support culling badgers. But if this research is not enough evidence to support better controls on cattle movement and the vaccination of cattle (and badgers) then I do not know what is.

This research says "whole herd culling" at the 10% farms where there are repeated bTB breakdowns would stop 80% cattle bTB within the UK in 5 years ...

Whole herd culling following a bTB breakdown used to be the practice when bTB levels were kept very, very low. That was a brutal procedure but made sense because the bTB skin test was designed as test of herd health, not of the health of individual cows.

The NFU successfully lobbied MAFF (DEFRA's predecessor)to stop "whole herd culling" during Maggie Thatcher's time in office. At the time, neither the NFU nor DEFRA could have realised this change in slaughter policy would be so damaging to the national effort to control cattle bTB.
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