The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last week issued figures revealing more than 15,000 cattle were slaughtered during the first five months of 2013. More than 12,000 TB reactors and direct contacts were slaughtered in England, with a further 3,000 animals in Wales.
The number of animals slaughtered on an annual basis is a huge concern for British dairy and beef farmers, according to Charles Marwood MRCVS, one of two newly appointed Dairy Monitor Farm vets.
He said: “It’s important to maintain TB-free status within the north of England and Scotland and farmers should remain vigilant when purchasing animals from potentially infected areas. The disease is spreading north and the new measures should help prevent further outbreaks.
“There are already rules in place to help stop the spread, including an animal being tested within 60 days of being moved out of an infected area. After being moved north, the animal is post-tested between 60 and 120 days after arrival.”
There were 2,246 new incidents over the five-month period with almost 6,000 herds placed under TB cattle movement restrictions by the end of May. DEFRA aims to stop the spread of TB into the north and Scotland by eradicating the disease on “edge” areas of infection.
Department analysis suggests TB could spread into the northern regions by 2022, and eradicating the infection in areas where the disease is spreading will benefit the livestock industry by an estimated ï¿½27m over the next decade.
Measures set to be introduced include immediate skin testing of any herd in Cheshire and Derbyshire within a 3km radius of an infected TB outbreak. The farm will be tested again within six months.
Herds with suspended TB Free status following the results of skin testing, will require two further clear tests. Those herds with a withdrawn TB Free status will require gamma-interferon blood testing analysis.
The rule implementation will affect all herds in the defined “edge” area already on compulsory annual TB testing programmes, as well as herds on compulsory testing before the movement of cattle from the farm.
Further measures include the severing of Cattle Tracing System “links” between the defined edge areas, and high risk areas that have previously allowed livestock farmers to move cattle within two areas, without the need to notify the movement. DEFRA considers the measures will take a significant step towards the goal or eradicating TB within 25 years.
Farming minister David Heath said: “Bovine TB is a highly-infectious disease that is devastating our dairy and beef industry and continues to spread across England at an alarming rate.
“We are taking tough action on TB at the frontier of this disease to stop and then reverse the spread.”
Humans can pick up TB by consuming unpasteurised milk and dairy products from infected herds; handling the carcasses of dead carriers through cuts or by not washing hands thoroughly.
Farmers should remain vigilant when purchasing animals from potentially infected areas