Farmers want new tests in bid to make region bovine TB free

Bovine tuberculosis comes at a high cost to farmers, taxpayers, cattle and wildlife.  Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
Bovine tuberculosis comes at a high cost to farmers, taxpayers, cattle and wildlife. Graphic: Graeme Bandeira
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A GROWING number of the region’s farmers are being made to feel like “sitting ducks” and at risk of bovine tuberculosis spreading to their farm gates because of the failure by government to press ahead with its full disease eradication programme, the National Farmers’ Union said.

In their election manifesto this year, the Conservative Party pledged to implement its 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB but the NFU said it had seen little evidence of any new details on that plan, two months after the Tories secured a majority at the ballot boxes.

Of utmost concern to farmers in Yorkshire is the postponement by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of a consultation document which was due to be published last week. The document was to outline proposals to strengthen cattle controls in England, and crucially for the region’s farmers, the introduction of post-movement testing for cattle coming into the county from ‘high risk’ and ‘edge’ areas.

At present cattle can be brought to Yorkshire - a ‘low risk’ area - from parts of the country where the disease is more common, only if animals are declared disease-free in tests carried out before they are moved. Herds in the low risk area are tested for bovine TB once every four years.

Richard Findlay, regional livestock board chairman for the NFU in Yorkshire and the North East, said farmers were frustrated.

“We are sitting ducks waiting for the disease to arrive if we are not careful.

“We have a low incidence of the disease in the whole of the low risk area but cattle which later come down with TB are still getting through the net. We have high hopes that post-movement testing will mop these ones up, because at the moment we are coming upon these incidences by chance through routine tests.”

He said the NFU had postponed meetings with farmers, which had been set up in anticipation of new TB eradication measures being put out for public consultation by Defra.

“It’s disappointing. It was a manifesto commitment to rural areas and once the Conservatives had a majority we thought they would get straight onto the front foot but we are still waiting.

“We have a great situation here in terms of the disease, with healthy wildlife and those post-movement tests won’t just protect the cattle, it would keep it out of the wildlife.”

The NFU’s county chairmen are writing to their local MPs to push the issue to the top of the agenda, he said.

Defra would not be drawn on how soon post-movement testing would be formally consulted on.

Instead, a spokesperson said: “Our long-term strategy to eradicate bovine TB is fully operational and on track, thanks to tighter cattle movement controls, vaccination and culling where the disease is rife.

“We have worked closely with farmers and vets to implement the strategy over the last two years and we will continue to do so in this Parliament.

“New measures to protect our beef and dairy industry from this devastating disease will be announced in due course.”