Campaign call for rethink on TB policy

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ONE healthy animal may be condemned for nothing among every five killed in the name of controlling bovine TB – and one diseased animal in five could be being missed and left to carry on spreading the problem, according to a campaign for a rethink of government policy, although Defra disputes the statistics.

Rethink bTB currently represents mainly part-time farmers and non-farmers involved with the Welsh campaign against plans for a badger cull.

One of the campaign organisers, Michael Ritchie, a property developer and smallholder, said this week: “We all happened to meet through Pembrokeshire Against the Cull but we began to realise badgers were a bit of a red herring. We needed to look at the TB policy we have been stuck on for 60 years, which simply isn’t working. We are perfectly open to people who are in favour of badger culling.”

The campaign manifesto was inspired by arguments aired at Yorkshire farmer Ken Jackson’s successful appeal against a death sentence on his champion British Blonde bull, which was declared on the basis of a bungled blood test.

Defra told the appeal court it had to always act on the safe side when it came to TB. But Paul Torgerson, a vet and professor based in Zurich, gave evidence that Defra’s strategy was a lot more hit and miss than it liked to admit. The bull has since passed another TB test, although it has not yet got a final all-clear.

Prof Torgerson and his brother, David, a specialist in human health economics at York University, wrote a paper challenging EU policy on bTB two years ago and Yorkshire Post reports drew it to the attention of both the Jackson family and campaigners against badger culling.

Defra says it wrongly condemns only one animal in a thousand. But even if that is right, the Rethink campaign says, that would have meant 4,899 false positives in 2009 – a fifth of the 24,924 cattle condemned. Similarly, the campaign argues, the combination of flaws in the Defra strategy suggest it misses one infected animal in every five or six.

Other arguments include ...

n Governments got involved in bovine TB primarily because of the risk of transmission to humans, which is very small.

n The EU opposes vaccination against bTB because it would confuse vetting of cattle for export – but live exports are nowadays worth less than £4m to the UK, while compensation for culling of TB suspects costs £100m.

The Rethink manifesto sums up: “The effect of the policy is worse than the disease. Whatever aspect is considered – farming profit, cost effectiveness, animal welfare, human health, conservation or food security – current policy is a resounding failure. Much of the compensation paid to farmers is for healthy cattle that were unlikely to develop bovine TB or would have been slaughtered in the normal course of farm production long before any symptoms developed.”

The campaign says a combination of vaccination and sensible culling would be cheaper and less stressful all round. See