Tackling Bovine TB

This blog will provide updates on the work carried out across England to tackle TB in cattle, and share information on the disease and its impact.

Sep 1

Aug 13

Latest bovine TB statistics published

The most recent bovine TB statistics show that the disease has caused the slaughter of a further 14,413 cattle in England since the start of this year.

This unacceptable loss illustrates the enormity of the task at hand to bring this disease under control. But it’s not all bad news. We have a comprehensive strategy in place to make England TB free by 2038, which includes stringent cattle controls, measures to help farmers prevent the spread of infection on their farms, an injectable badger vaccination programme and research into cattle and oral badger vaccinations. These latest statistics suggest that by using all of these measures, we may be starting to see an end to the worsening disease picture that has devastated so many herds.  

It’s important that we don’t overplay the recent statistics because they are affected by the amount of testing carried out. There is still a long term trend that has seen TB increase over the last decades. That trend needs to be reversed, which we are still far from achieving. The monthly incidence rate (i.e. the proportion of herds tested that return new positive TB results and are put under restrictions) for May has remained, as it was in the previous month, at 3.0%. We clearly cannot be complacent, especially as bovine TB continues to spread geographically, posing a major threat to yet more farmers across England. That is why we are using all the tools we have available to tackle the disease and introducing more ways to stop its spread, such as a new funding scheme to encourage badger vaccination in the ‘edge area’ to help prevent it taking hold there.

The most recent bovine TB statistics can be viewed here.


Jul 30

Farmers urged to take on risk-based trading to help tackle bovine TB

Farmers in the North and East of England, classed low risk areas for bovine TB, are being advised to request information on the TB history of cattle they buy to reduce the risk of their herds being infected with the disease.

This practice, known as risk-based trading (RBT), will give farmers vital information about the animals they are buying and help them to assess and manage the risk of their herds being infected with bovine TB.

Since the launch of RBT last November, Defra has provided posters and guidance leaflets to all auction marts in England explaining the importance of risk based trading and what this means for farmers.

Before farmers buy stock to add to their herd they should find out the animals? TB history, asking sellers as a minimum for:

  • The date of the animal’s last pre-movement test, if applicable;
  • The date of the last routine herd test; and
  • If the herd has ever had TB and, if it has, when it last came off restrictions.

Farming Minister, George Eustice said:

“Introducing new animals to a herd can be a potential disease risk. Farms in the North and East of England are for the most part free of bovine TB and we want to do everything we can to prevent the spread of disease to these parts of the country.

“Risk-based trading will help us do just that. It is an important tool that gives farmers the ability to reduce the risk to their livelihoods from the threat of this terrible disease, which can have a devastating impact on farms and lead to the slaughter of otherwise healthy cattle.”

Michael Seals, Chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England added:

“Providing and receiving this extra information will help farmers to minimise the possibility of a TB breakdown with all its tragic knock on effects - such as having their herd placed under restrictions and the high likelihood that all nearby herds are also subjected to multiple TB tests.

“Farmers owe it to themselves and their neighbours to adopt RBT. It is a common sense step which can make a big impact on stopping the spread of bovine TB, and I urge all farmers to take it on board.”

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Jul 23

Biosecurity Expert Group to help farmers help themselves tackle bovine TB

The first meeting of a bovine TB expert group took place earlier this month. We (Defra) have set up the working group to help prepare a biosecurity action plan which will focus on actions that farmers and others in the livestock industry can take to better reduce the risk of bovine TB infecting and spreading within cattle herds.  The group is made up of representatives from the farming industry – both organisations and individuals, as well as others, including representatives from the veterinary profession, livestock auctioneers, government, and experts on various aspects of bovine TB, including wildlife ecology.  The group aims to finalise the action plan in autumn 2014, after which we will focus on working with industry to take forward the agreed work.

A workshop on biosecurity which ran in May showed that there is a lot of interest in this subject and the first meeting of the biosecurity working group in July built on that.  It was clear from the participants’ energy and expertise that there is a real appetite to work with us to help decide what the priorities should be.  As this is such an important element of our overall strategy for tackling TB, we need to help farmers and others work out what will have the biggest impact in terms of reducing their risk of a TB breakdown and, for those unfortunate enough to have had experience of the disease, how to regain disease freedom quickly and hopefully stay free thereafter.

John Royle, the NFU’s chief farm policy adviser and a member of the working group said: “I’m pleased that Defra has decided to involve an industry group, including farmers from both high risk and low risk areas to work together to develop ideas on how we might target biosecurity and disease prevention measures on farms.   There is so much advice out there, and a lot of it is not relevant or specific to an individual farmer.  Some of the measures are very expensive, not always practical and others require time to install, which farmers may not have.  I hope that this group will come up with a plan which helps us to tackle some of these issues, including access to funding, tailored, expert and independent advice to suit individual needs and circumstances.  Farmers want to know what they can do to reduce the risks to their herds, biosecurity measures are one tool that may help prevent their herd being infected with bovine TB or indeed other diseases.”


Jul 17

Latest bovine TB statistics published

The most recent bovine TB (bTB) statistics are now online. As of the end of April, more than 4,700 herds across Great Britain were affected by bovine TB, and 11,689 cattle have been slaughtered due to the disease.   The charts and tables in this statistical release illustrate how the trend in bTB incidence has changed since 1996. While it’s important to note that short term changes in these statistics should be considered in the context of long term trends, the monthly incidence rate for April is 3.0%. This is the lowest single monthly incidence rate since 2003 and the third consecutive month in which a decrease in the short-term incidence rate has been observed.

Farming Minister, George Eustice said:

“These latest statistics show that our comprehensive bovine TB eradication strategy is beginning to have a positive effect in bringing this devastating disease under control.

“However bovine TB continues to be a major issue for farmers across England. That is why we are using all the tools we have available to tackle the disease, including a new funding scheme to encourage vaccination of badgers in the ‘edge area’ to help prevent bovine TB taking hold there.”

The most recent bovine TB statistics can be viewed here.


Jun 26

Global collaboration at International M. bovis Conference 2014

By the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)

On 16 – 19 June experts in animal disease gathered in Cardiff for a major international conference looking at the global problem of bovine TB.

Co-hosted by AHVLA, the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), Defra and the Welsh Government, the International Mycobacterium bovis Conference is the sixth in a line of conferences put together under the guiding principle that successful TB eradication is a balance of science, compliance, finance and appropriate control strategies.

Chris, a scientist at AHVLA, was one of the delegates at the conference:

“Every now and again a junior researcher like myself gets the opportunity to attend a big international conference. This year I had the good fortune to attend a key event for TB science, surveillance and policy.

“The first day was a good indication of the varied and enormous scope of what was to come. After opening remarks by Professor Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, and Professor Glyn Hewinson, AHVLA’s Lead TB Scientist, delegates were treated to a truly international flavour of the importance of bovine TB control around the world.  Keynote talks from staff from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Director General’s office of the World Health Organisation kicked off proceedings, followed by a whirlwind tour of vaccine development from Professor Helen McShane from the University of Oxford. Before long we were whisked off to Australia and New Zealand with topics as varied as risk management and wildlife management.

“Between keynote talks, each day was split into three streams covering topics like vaccination; policy, legislation and regulation; epidemiology and surveillance; diagnosis; practical delivery; social science and economics; wildlife; control; and new methods and innovation.

“Given my work at AHVLA as an immunologist, I attended sessions along the lines of vaccination and diagnostics. However thanks to the world of social media I was able to follow the highlights of talks from other streams using the Twitter hashtag #Mbovis2014. In fact, Doctor Gareth Enticott from the University of Cardiff has collated all the tweets here.

“With such busy days there was too much to describe here so I’ll give you some of my personal highlights. Tuesday began with a fascinating keynote talk from Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor, about the use of evidence in policy making, and another from Peter Roeder about the practicalities of disease eradication.

“Wednesday gave us DIVA (Differentiate Infected from Vaccinated Animals) skin tests and comparisons of diagnostic tests in Mozambique.

“On Thursday we discussed the Slovenian TB eradication programme; the role of shooting permits in controlling white-tailed deer in Michigan; whole genome sequencing in New Zealand and the history of M. bovis and M. tuberculosis in Nigeria.

“It fell to Michael Sheridan, the deputy Chief Veterinary Officer for Ireland to provide the closing remarks and bring to an end the sixth International M. bovis Conference.”


Jun 11

New measures announced to help tackle bovine TB

Further measures to strengthen our bovine TB cattle controls and prevent the spread of disease have been proposed in a consultation which began today.

The proposals come as new statistics published today show that the tough measures taken to combat bovine TB are starting to have an impact, with the rate of new herd infections at its lowest point for 10 years.

Farming Minister, George Eustice said:

“Today’s statistics show that the controls in our bovine TB eradication strategy are beginning to make a difference and the further measures announced today will help even more to bring this devastating disease under control.

“However we cannot become complacent. The impact of bovine TB on our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated. That is why must do everything we can to reach our aim of making the whole of England TB free.”

The consultation proposes the removal of pre-movement exemptions for cattle moving between several holdings under the same farm ownership, known as Sole Occupancy Authorities. This will remove the possibility of some cattle keepers in the high risk and edge areas moving their animals over long distances without any TB testing.

Since 1 January 2014 owners of herds who fail to complete their TB surveillance test on time risk seeing their CAP scheme payment reduced, even if the test is delayed by only one day. The consultation also sets out our intention to extend this approach to also include TB tests in restricted herds.

Our current approach has already helped achieve a 60% reduction in late TB surveillance tests this year. As is the case now, farmers will not be penalised where there are good reasons for missing a TB testing deadline.

The latest bovine TB statistics show that the monthly incidence rate, which is the proportion of new outbreaks discovered through testing, was around 3.25%. This is the lowest rate since 2004 and follows a similarly low rate in February of 3.5%.

For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-measures-announced-to-help-tackle-bovine-tb


May 14

Latest Bovine TB statistics published

The most recent bovine TB (bTB) statistics are now online. These show that bTB continues to be a major issue for farmers across England and they reiterate the need for further robust action to tackle the disease in areas where it is endemic and prevent it from spreading further to the “edge areas”.

Since the beginning of this year another 5,928 cattle in Britain have been slaughtered due to the disease.

Other statistics published this month show that the number of new herd incidents during the two months to 28 February 2014 was 955 whereas the corresponding figure in 2013 was 898.

The charts and tables in this statistical release illustrate how the trend in bTB incidence has changed since 1996. It’s important to note that short term changes in these statistics should be considered in the context of long term trends.

The full statistical release can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incidence-of-tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain


May 12

David Barton, a Gloucestershire beef farmer, has been battling bovine TB on his farm for years. 

Last week he invited the NFU on to his farm to film four of his cattle, including his stock bull Ernie, being shot and removed after they had tested positive for bovine TB.

Writing on a blog he has created to share his experiences of dealing with bovine TB, David said Ernie had been the last animal to be tested and he never thought he would test positive for the disease.


Apr 16

Environment Secretary visits farm devastated by bovine TB

Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson visited a dairy farm in Dorset yesterday and met with a farmer who lost 31 TB infected in-calf heifers on Monday and a further five cows yesterday.

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You can learn more about this farm on ITV News West Country here.


Bovine TB statistics and your chance to feed-back

The most recent bovine TB (bTB) statistics are now online. These show that bTB continues to be a major issue for farmers across England and they reiterate the need for robust action to tackle the disease in areas where it is endemic and prevent it from spreading further to the “edge areas”.

Since the beginning of this year 2,924 cattle in Britain have already been slaughtered due to the disease.

The charts and tables in this stats notice illustrate how the trend in bTB incidence has changed since 1996. It’s important to note that short term changes in these statistics should be considered in the context of long term trends. For example, the provisional incidence rate for January 2014 is 4.3% which is the same as in January 2013, but higher than the incidence rate of 1.5% in January 1996. The recent figures include a number of unclassified incidents, and as such the incidence rates are subject to further revisions as more tests and their results for the period are included.

Other statistics published this month are the number of new herd incidents up to January 2014. These were 534 in January 2014 compared with 498 for January 2013. And the number of tests on officially TB free herds was 8,083 during January 2014, compared with 7,347 during January 2013.

The TB statistics team is seeking feedback on the statistical notice over the next six weeks. There is a link to the survey next to the full bovine TB statistical notice, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incidence-of-tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain


Apr 3

Independent Expert Panel report and Defra response

The findings and recommendations of the Independent Expert Panel on the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pilot-badger-culls-in-somerset-and-gloucestershire-report-by-the-independent-expert-panel

Defra’s response to the report by the Independent Expert Panel on the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/pilot-badger-culls-in-somerset-and-gloucestershire-defra-response-to-the-report-by-the-independent-expert-panel


Plans to eradicate bovine TB in England unveiled

A comprehensive Strategy to achieve TB free status in England by 2038 has been announced by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today.

Read the strategy here.

This includes continuing to strengthen cattle movement controls, a grant-funded scheme for badger vaccination projects in the ‘edge area’ at the frontier of the disease, and improvements to the four-year badger cull pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

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Following recommendations from the Independent Expert Panel that assessed the badger cull pilots last year, a series of changes will be made to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling. These changes will be monitored to assess their impact before further decisions are taken on more badger cull licences next year.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson:

The four year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them.

It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.

Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our Strategy, to make England TB free.

Improvements to the pilot culls will include more extensive training for contractors carrying out the cull, better planning by the licensed companies to ensure culling is spread evenly across all land available and better data collection to assess progress. The changes being introduced will help increase the effectiveness of the culls by removing more badgers in a safe and humane way.

There will be a trial of a new service in Somerset and Gloucestershire to provide farmers with bespoke advice on how to better protect their farms from disease. This service will be available to all farmers within the licensed cull areas.

Addressing bovine TB in badgers in high risk areas is just one part of a new long-term strategy to eradicate bovine TB from England. The strategy demonstrates the wide range of tools we will use to achieve TB free status by 2038. This includes:

Offering grant funding for private badger vaccination projects in the edge areas aiming to increase TB immunity in uninfected badgers and reduce the spread of the disease. Defra will provide match-funding for successful applicants;

  • Continuing to strengthen our cattle movement controls and testing regime to stop the disease from spreading from herd to herd;
  • Improving biosecurity by helping farmers understand the disease risk of cattle they buy; and
  • Continuing to invest in development of a new vaccine for cattle which could be field tested next year, and an oral badger vaccine which we would look to have available for use by 2019.

The scale of the problem is different across the country, so we will establish three bTB management regions known as the High Risk Area, Low Risk Area and the Edge area. A range of measures will be applied to control the disease within each zone according to the risk.


Video explaining what bovine TB is, and what the Government is doing to tackle it. 


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