Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Bovine TB moves up a gear - to the concern of all involved
New figures published today show an increase of 9.6 per cent in cattle slaughtered for TB in England, which has now reached a figure of 38,010. It provokes a number of serious concerns.
To summarise the problem: The cost of compensation to the taxpayer rises as the costs in the following categories:
1. The compensation paid to farmers
2. Costs of testing - vet visits to farms etc
3. Costs of badger and other wildlife controls
Added to this is the cost to the farmer of lost sales of cattle and milk interruption, plus the costs of herding for testing, and associated weight losses.
Farmers can do little to help themselves. Their hands re wildlife, including badgers, are tied. Cattle movements are part of the business, and those with closed herds can well have neighbours who are trading widely.
Last year the government took the decision to talk with the wider public (stakeholder engagement) which was conducted by The Animal Health and Welfare Board for England AHWBE. They did this between 10 Sept and 19 October, hearing views on TB strategies, 'delivery of TB testing', reactor removal and compensation, advice, support and insurance. Their informal workshops, which attracted a total 134 people, 'was most positive'. A total 611 responses were made in all, 36% being farmers, farming organisations and related bodies; 22% vets, 39% other commercial companies and members of the public. Only 2% of the responses were from wildlife and conservation groups. Devolution means that England, Scotland and Wales have different policies, even if the disease and its circumstances are to all intents and purposes identical
Suggestions on testing make sense -focussing on the at-risk herds. fewer tests for finishing units but more on breeding and flying herds.
Better handling facilities
There were calls for improvements to handling facilities, and to fund innovations such as teams with high quality mobile handling facilities and trained staff to support faster, accurate and less stressful testing for farmers, vets and cattle. Here is an area where Practical Farm Ideas could be of direct help. We have described how farmers have built inexpensive mobile handling facilities which incorporate cattle crushes - they are not complex and can be built by anyone with reasonable workshop skills.
Farmers Weekly survey
FW hosted an on-line internet survey which had 336 anonymous responses, 26% respondents being farmers and 19% vets, and 184 from other people. Many of the numerous proposals were very detailed, including the suggestion of an annual or two-year testing programme for the whole of the country, publishing detailed rules for parish testing intervals, getting more co-operation between state and private practice vets and more communication with farmers. More work on bio-security and separating cattle from wildlife is something which Practical Farm Ideas can contribute to. Other suggestions were a reassessment of TB management, and a consistent approach taken across the UK, including devolved governments.
The survey clearly produced a considerable quantity of new ideas and facts, but it seemed as if farmers themselves did not get into the action. Neither did Practical Farm Ideas or other media. The six week period required quick action, and doubtless the survey was well flagged up by the Veterinary Association. Yet it's the taxpayer and farmers who bear the brunt of the cost and the pain, while the vets get additional work from the problem - thought they are as keen as any to see the disease eradicated.
Clean drinking water for cattle, and troughs sited so they can't be used by badgers. Enclosing cattle sheds and silage clamps with badger proof fencing. Ensuring that no cattle, such as bulls on hire, can escape testing by being moved on - these should be tested very regularly due to their potentially wide contact with other herds.
The need for urgency
The livestock industry could be decimated by this disease, with not only increased numbers of stock being culled, but farmers who are clear deciding to get out of stock because of the risks. BTb has been allowed to spread through a number of factors, some of which have been in the control of government as well as farmers. If there is a case for targets, this is it, and the people involved, including farmers, need to be given the freedom and tools to attain those targets.