Exposed: the "enormous potential for farm to farm spread" of TB
Bovine TB is spreading from farm to farm across distances of tens and even hundreds of miles and it is all perfectly legal, the Badger Trust reveals today.
Published as Secretary of State Hilary Benn considers the options for bovine TB control, the Trust's new report shows how farm holdings in TB hotspots are made up of multiple fields that can be many miles apart. Because the fields are all registered as the same holding, cattle can move between them without being recorded and without pre- movement testing. Then, in turn, they can spread TB through direct contact with neighbouring herds.
The situation is further complicated by two systems through which separate holdings can be linked. These systems operate separately at local level and national level, but together provide further loopholes that allow movement recording and pre-movement testing to be avoided.
The Badger Trust report reveals that this pattern of farm structures is consistent in the TB-affected areas of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, though the loopholes vary.
In Northern Ireland, vets acknowledge that this generates an "enormous potential for farm to farm spread". Yet Northern Ireland has virtually halved its TB incidence in just three years by focusing on this problem and treating each TB outbreak as an 'epidemiological event'. Other potentially affected herds are traced by mapping the outbreak farm in detail. No badgers are being killed.
In contrast, the Republic of Ireland is blaming badgers for spreading bovine TB. Yet TB actually increased there by 13% in 2007. The number of reactors in 2007 was nearly identical to the number in 2002, when badger culling was increased.
Meanwhile, in Great Britain, the Government was warned in 2006 that current rules for the movements of livestock 'increases the risk of disease spreading ... and increase the difficulty of tracing any cattle because movements over long distances are unreported to the central database'. Yet so far, little has been done to address this problem, allowing the steady spread of bovine TB between farms.
Report author Trevor Lawson, from the Badger Trust, commented: "It is alarmingly clear that there are simply too many opportunities for cattle to be moved over substantial distances without that movement being recorded and without pre-movement testing. Tax payers are picking up the bill for this ludicrous state of affairs in increased compensation payments, whilst badgers are being scapegoated for a problem that is inherent in the very structure of the farming industry.
"If bovine TB is to be brought under control, Animal Health must be given appropriate IT resources to monitor bovine TB effectively. And the current, complex system must be replaced by one based on a more coherent definition of livestock holdings. Above all, it is imperative that the Secretary of State does not capitulate to the NFU's demand to 'attack' badgers. It is clear in the Republic of Ireland that badger culling fails."