Committee recommends limiting bovine TB testing

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Related tags: Cattle

The process in Britain to introduce mandatory testing for bovine
tuberculosis (TB) is bound to generate more heated debate with the
release yesterday of a report recommending limiting the programme
to older cattle.

The document, produced by a committee which included representatives from the cattle industry, recommends the programme should be limited to animals over 15 months of age that are about to be transported. Animals going directly to slaughter would be exempted from testing. The recommendation runs against government's proposal that the industry move immediately to testing all animals over six weeks of age. The immediate implementation for such broader testingrequirements would present "extreme logistical difficulties for sectors of industry, particularly suckler herds and there is also concern about veterinary resource availability," thecommittee states. Instead they recommend that any extension of pre-movement testing to animals between six weeks and 15 months of age should be reviewed after the first year. Government proposes to share thecost of the extensive testing programme with the farming industry. The committee's approach would reduce the incident of bovine TB by about 650 new cases each year if applied in England and Wales. When the programme is eventually applied to animals between six weeks and 15 months of agethe number of incidents would fall by 920 cases. About 3,000 cattle were found to have bovine TB in Britain last year. The committee estimates their recommended approach for the first year would require the testing of about 290,000 cattle a year from farms in England, of which 60,000 would be moved for routine surveillance tests. When animals betweensix weeks and 15 months of age are included, the total number would rise to 560,000. Under the committee's proposal government would pay an estimated £1.7m (€2.5m) a year while industry would pay £2.8m for the tests. When animals between six weeks and 15 months of age are included, thecosts would rise to £2.3m for government and £5.1m from the industry. The committee's recommendations also include measures: Making it an offence to move cattle off premises without having had them tested or having proof of exemption. Requiring anyone moving cattle from tested herds to retain evidence of the tests or of an exemption for a minimum of ten years. Requiring keepers to be given a copy of the test results by the veterinary surgeon, following all TB testing; Requiring all testing documentation to accompany the animal; and Making pre-movement testing a statutory requirement. The committee also recommends government make a large number of exemptions from pre-movement testing, including cattle subject to the yearly routine surveillance testing or annual testing on public health groundsand cattle moving direct to slaughter or to slaughter markets. The report was produced by an eight-member advisory committee under the guidance of Britain's environment, food and rural affairs department (Defra). It was submitted to Britain's chief veterinaryofficer in April 2005. The committee members included farming, veterinary, livestock market and regulatory representatives. The process was so heated that one committee member, a livestock auctioneer, concluded that he was unable to endorse the report. Other members also voiced disagreement with various recommendations, which were only passed by a majority of the committee. Defra said it will now consider the committee's recommendations with regulators in Wales and Scotland before starting a public consultation later this year. The report is part of Defra's wider efforts to control bovine TB, which includes proposals to cull Britain's beloved badger. The release of the report comes on the heels of a study published in Naturemagazine last month, which states that cattle movement around Britain is the most important factor in the spread of bovine TB, rather than the country's beloved badger. Farmers and veterinarians have blamed badgers for the spread of TB in UK herds. The proposal to cull the population has sparked off protests from animal lovers and environmental groups in Britain. "Government is prepared to consider a badger culling policy if evidence supports this as a cost-effective, sustainable and acceptable part of its TB control regime," Defrasaid in a statement yesterday. All mammals are susceptible to bovine TB. Cattle are the most commonly affected species. Bovine TB also affects farmed deer, wild boar, goats, llamas, alpacas, pigs, dogs, cats and humans. Badgers, deer, buffalo and bison can also act as reservoirs for the disease.Badgers have been found to have the highest rate of infection and may be a significant source of TB infection for cattle.

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