Comment: No let-up in fight against bovine TB

Michael Seals: Vigilance has to be maintained when buying new cattle.
Michael Seals: Vigilance has to be maintained when buying new cattle.
Have your say

Bovine TB is the greatest disease threat facing cattle in this country, and while most farmers in Yorkshire have so far been spared from the devastating impacts it is having in other parts of England, the threat cannot be ignored.

Indeed keeping areas free of TB is a fundamental part of our overall strategy.

Last year alone, more than 26,600 otherwise healthy cattle in England were slaughtered because of this disease, putting some farmers on the brink of financial ruin.

While many farmers in the North and East of England will feel safe in the knowledge that they are in a low-risk area for bovine TB, the disease can still strike even where it is uncommon – as we saw in Cumbria in the spring.

These outbreaks should be a warning to farmers here in Yorkshire that they cannot become complacent.

In Yorkshire this year, there have been ten incidents of TB. Vigilance must be maintained, especially when buying new cattle – as the vast majority of TB breakdowns in low risk areas are caused by bought-in cattle.

That is why Defra has been working with the farming industry, vets and livestock auctioneers on ways to help farmers make more informed decisions when buying cattle, so that they can reduce the risk of their herds becoming infected.

This is known as risk-based trading and involves providing information on the TB history of cattle that owners are looking to buy.

The principle behind risk-based trading is that cattle farmers will be in a better position to assess and manage the TB risk to their herds if they know exactly what they are buying.

This can be achieved by demanding information on the origin and TB history of the animals from their cattle seller or auctioneer.

Since last November, cattle keepers have been encouraged to ask for three pieces of information before buying cattle: Date of the animal’s last pre-movement test, if applicable; date of the last whole herd test; and whether the herd has ever had TB and, if it has, when it last came off restrictions.

It will help them minimise the potential tragedy of a TB breakdown and the restrictions it can place on the movements of cattle not only on their farm, but their neighbouring farms too.

I urge cattle farmers to ask for this vital information about the disease history of an animal before they buy and also to isolate the newly-purchased stock and carry out post-movement tests.

This will not completely eliminate the risk of TB potentially affecting their herd, but it will reduce that risk.

The whole farming industry would benefit if every cattle farmer used risk-based trading when buying cattle.

Defra has a comprehensive TB strategy, which outlines a plan to reach the long-term goal of achieving official bovine TB-free status in England by 2038.

Cattle measures are a vital part of the strategy and risk-based trading could help to stop the spread of bovine TB in the low risk areas.

Michael Seals is chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England.