Number of cattle herds infected by TB ‘has been overestimated’

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THE number of herds of cattle infected with bovine tuberculosis has been “significantly” overestimated, official figures have shown.

Statistics for the incidence of new cases of the disease and the number of herds under restrictions following an outbreak of TB dating back to September 2011 were suspended last month after a problem was identified with data recording.

Revised figures show that the number of herds recorded as being under restrictions following an outbreak in England in September 2013 was 3,417, almost a third lower than the previously published figure of 4,778 herds for that month.

The figures have been revised downwards dating back to September 2011 for England, Wales and Scotland.

The number of new cases of TB has also been slightly revised downwards for both 2012, down from 5,201 to 5,154, and between January and September 2013 with a reduction from 3,556 to 3,487.

In addition to the revisions, the latest figures show a slightly lower rate of new TB cases between January to November 2013 compared to the same period the previous year.

There was also a 13 per cent reduction in the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered in England because of TB in the January to November 2013 period, compared to January to November 2012, down from 34,896 in 2012 to 30,220 in 2013.

The Government and farmers have been pursuing a policy of culling badgers, which spread the disease to cattle, which they say is necessary to tackle rising rates of TB.

But opponents of the cull claim it is ineffective and inhumane and that vaccination and on-farm measures should be used to curb the disease.

Dominic Dyer, policy advisor for animal charity Care for the Wild, said: “Once again we’re seeing reductions in all the key indicators around bTB, and all before any impact from the badger cull will be seen.

“A 13 per cent reduction in the number of cattle slaughtered is an excellent achievement - so why aren’t we seeing the Government and farmers proudly declaring that the improvements they have made are working?

“Because this is about politics, not facts. This is about convincing the public that a cull is necessary - when clearly it is not.”