Bovine tuberculosis statistics and costs
Are you aware of the following?
- Public Health England do not monitor the number of people who have latent TB.
Public Health England do not monitor the number of people in England who test positive to the TB skin or blood test. Details received in a reply from Public Health England in May 2013 are given here.
- In Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire less than 5% of dairy herds with 50 or more cattle have remained TB free between 1990 and 2012.
The following table shows TB-restricted, dairy herds with 50 or more cattle which existed between 1990 and 2012.
County Herds Never Restricted Been Restricted Restricted (%) Never Restricted (%) Cornwall 535 19 516 96.4 3.6 Devon 1000 46 954 95.4 4.6 Gloucestershire 152 3 149 98.0 2.0 Hereford & Worcester 137 7 130 94.9 5.1
Data in the above table were extracted from Reference 86.
To see proportions when lesser constraints apply, please click here.
- In 2009/10 the tax payer paid £87 million to address bovine TB in Great Britain.
Compensation RBCT Surveillance activity
By the VLA
Totals 1998/9919 7.3 3.5 2.9 1.9 2.5 6.7 24.8 1999/0019 17.6 5.3 4.6 2.4 3.8 4.5 38.2 2000/0119 13.3 6.6 6.6 3.5 5.3 0.9 36.2 2001/0219 5.4 9.2 6 3.7 6.1 0.1 30.5 2002/0319 24.7 31.9 6.6 4.1 6.5 0.7 74.5 2003/0419 33.2 34.4 7.3 5.3 7 1 88.2 2004/0519 36.4 35 7.2 4.9 5.7 1.3 90.5 2005/0619 36.7 40.4 6.2 7.5 6.5 1.8 99.1 2006/0719 37.8 24.5 1.63 6.4 7.78 1.7 79.71 2007/0819 32.6 29.7 0.03 7.9 8.5 1.2 79.93 2008/0936 40.3 52.7 0.00 5.9 7.7 1.8 108.4 2009/1058 41.9 28.15830.771 0.00 6.2 8.9 1.9 87.0 2010/11
Eng : ? Wales : ? Scot : ? Total : ? Eng : 27.8 Wales : 12.2 Scot : 0.2 Total : 40.2 0.00 Eng : 6.1 Wales : 0 Scot : 0.1 Total : 6.2 Eng : 6.9 Wales : 0.2 Scot : 0.1 Total : 7.2 Eng : 1.8 Wales : 1.0 Scot : 0.1 Total : 2.9 Eng : ? Wales : ? Scot : ? Total : ?
As you can see, testing and compensation tend to be the largest costs.
To see how the cost of each test and each compensation payment has changed since 1998, please click here.
To see how testing costs in England, Wales and Ireland compare with those in New Zealand and why these costs are so different, please click here.
- In Great Britain, the proportion of animals
testing positive reaches a maximum in mid summer and a minimum in mid winter. This has been seen in each year since 1998.
To see this and a graphical overview of the number of animals tested and slaughtered each month since 1998, please click here.
In 2006, the UK and Irish Republic had an incidence of TB which exceeded that in any other European country by more than 5 times.
The table below shows the top ten affected countries in Europe. In Great Britain, Scotland is a lot less affected than England and Wales. In fact Scotland in 2009 gained Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status. The national herd incidence represents the number of new reactor herds divided by herds tested during the year as defined in the Government Veterinary Journal.
Country National herd incidence (%) Northern Ireland 9.17 Great Britain 6.87 Ireland 5.72 Spain 1.11 Greece 0.74 Italy 0.62 Portugal 0.17 Poland 0.04 France 0.03 Germany 0.01
On 30 September 2005 (unless otherwise stated), the following European countries had achieved official TB-free status:
Denmark (2003 data)
France (2003 data)
Luxembourg (2003 data)
Netherlands (2003 data)
All the above data was taken from the Government Veterinary Journal.
The number of infected herds which were detected in Great Britain rose sharply again in 2012. In terms of the number of herds infected, 2012 was the worst year on record.
The number of infected herds discovered in 2012 was higher than in 2009 which was the last year the number of infected herds peaked. DEFRA issued a notice in January 2014 to say that the number of restricted herds in 2012 are overestimated. The figure shown for 2012 in the graph below is the figure AFTER the correction was applied.
Data in the above plot was taken from the detailed TB statistics downloaded from the AHVLA SAM database on 12 Feb 2014, county herd statistics supplied by DEFRA, TB incidents in Great Britain supplied by DEFRA, and AHVLA Chief Veterinary Officer's reports from 1967 to 1994. All data shown in the above graph is tabulated here.
The amount of testing performed in Great Britain to each disclosure is clearly the least out of Northern Ireland, Ireland and New Zealand. This very low level of testing has continued since 2003. Click here to see details.
Between 1998 and 2008 the proportion of TB infected herds in Devon increased from 4% to 25%.
The percentage of TB infected herds were calculated by dividing the number of infected herds by the number of existing herds.
In the above graph, care should be taken when comparing graph lines. Please see below.
- For England and Wales, the number of herd incidences are shown so herds which test positive, negative and then positive in a 12 month period are counted twice. This anomaly in how the received data is interpreted was confirmed by DEFRA on 13th May 2010.
- For England, South West England and Devon, figures for 2008 apply to the period 1st Nov 2007 to 31st Oct 2008. Figures for all other years apply to the period 1st Jan to 31st Dec in each year.
- For the Irish Republic, the 2008 figure only applies from 01Jan to 12Dec.
- For New Zealand the number of infected herds is based on data from July to June in each year with the number of existing herds calculated at the end of June in each year.
England Request (Sent 27Dec08)
Follow up (Sent 26Jan09)
Follow up (Sent 29Jan09)
Follow up (Sent 12Feb09)
Follow up (Sent 26Feb09)
Reply (Received 26Jan09)
Reply (Received 29Jan09)
Reply (Received 29Jan09)
Reply (Received 12Feb09)
Reply (Received 27Feb09)
Received data Wales Request (Sent 12Dec08) Reply (Received 14Jan09) See Reply Northern Ireland Request (Sent 12Dec08) Reply (Received 22Dec08) Part1 of received data
Part2 of received data
Irish Republic Request (Sent 12Dec08) Reply (Received 18Dec08) Received data New Zealand Request (Sent 13Dec08) Reply (Received 15Dec08) Received data
In England, levels of bovine TB have substantially increased since 1998. Gloucester is the worst affected county.
In the above graph the percentage of restricted herds was calculated by dividing the number of herds under TB movement restriction (non-OTF) by the total number of herds. Please click here for more details.
It is currently (31st August 2013) not known if DEFRA will be able to extend its annual county herd data beyond 2010. Further details are given here.
In Wales, Gwent has the most TB restricted herds.
Wales Request (Sent 04Mar09) Reply (Received 30Mar09) Table 1 of received data
Table 2 of received data
About 25% of badgers occur in southwest England, but only 10% in Scotland.68 The prevalence of bovine TB in Scotland is very low.
To see the prevalence of bovine TB in Scotland, please click here.
In 2006 the European Commission issued a guidance report which states alternatives to vaccination should be implemented without any delay and the role of infected wildlife addressed. Under the EU funding agreement, the EU would provide up to 50 per cent of the funding for an effective eradication plan.29
The following is an extract from a report titled Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis in the EU.
" An active approach to the removal of TB-infected wildlife and the urgent development of alternative means of preventing transmission of TB from this source to cattle is proposed. It has now been reliably demonstrated that the persistence of an infected wildlife reservoir that enters into contact with cattle is a major obstacle to the eradication of TB. This obstacle should be addressed in tandem with the measures implemented in relation to the cattle population.
While future prospects for the development of suitable TB vaccines for use in wildlife are promising, considerable obstacles remain which make it difficult to foresee the use of such vaccination on its own as the most suitable tool to use to address the persistence of the variety of infected wildlife reservoirs worldwide in the near future. In the meantime, therefore, alternatives to vaccination, in order to address the role of infected wildlife in the persistence of TB should be implemented without any delay so as to allow the progress of the eradication programmes.
Removal of wildlife, either proactively or reactively following outbreaks, has proven to be an effective ancillary, and in certain situations necessary, measure to control and eradicate TB. "
It then goes on to say the following.
"The elimination or reduction of the risk posed by an infected wildlife reservoir enables the other measures contained in the programme to yield the expected results, whereas the persistence of TB in these wildlife populations impedes the effective elimination of the disease."
Regarding short term measures, it further says the following. (The underlined text in the second paragraph is of particular note)
"It is necessary to further explore and assess the impact of certain well-defined recommended measures that can be evaluated and incorporated into TB eradication programmes in the short term.
Those deemed appropriate for the current situation in a particular member state should be applied to a relevant degree and, for those deemed inappropriate, a sound explanation for disregarding or modifying them should be provided."
EU funding received by England from 1998 to 2008, and a request to and response from DEFRA regarding this, is shown here.
Bovine TB has rapidly reduced in New Zealand while it has rapidly increased in Great Britain.
The following is an extract from the Government Veterinary Journal which was published in 2006.
" Wildlife reservoirs of M. bovis constitute a major impediment to the eradication of bovine TB in the New Zealand cattle herd. However, a fundamental difference with the situation in the UK and Ireland is that those reservoirs are non-native species and regarded as introduced pests. Furthermore, agriculture is New Zealand's largest industry, representing 60% of the country's export earnings. All this makes the culling of wildlife (for livestock disease control purposes) a more socially acceptable proposition than it is in the UK."
In New Zealand's 2011 Animal Health Board annual report, Chief executive William McCook said the main factors in the reduction have been possum control, TB testing and livestock movement restrictions. The aim of the control programme is to eradicate TB from wildlife across 2.5 million hectares of at-risk areas by 2026. Mr McCook said that would reduce the risk to cattle and deer and save on TB testing.70
For details of milestones and what New Zealand did to achieve these substantial reductions, please click here.
Natural England typically received just less than 1,000 applications each year between 2001 and 2010 for licences to address issues relating to badgers76
Please click here for further details.
Herd restrictions due to TB testing are over 5 times greater in Devon, England than they are in the Irish Republic
The number of herds which were under bovine TB movement restrictions in Devon, England as a result of TB testing at any time between January 2008 and September 2008 is 22.2%. This proportion ranges from 9.8 to 28.2% depending on county with Gloucester being worst affected.
The number of herds which were under restriction in the Irish Republic at any time between January 2008 and 5th October 2008 is 4.4%. This proportion ranges from 2.0% to 8.6% depending on county.
These sets of figures were supplied by DEFRA and DAFF. The DEFRA data3 was sourced from http://www.defra.gov.uk and DAFF data4 was supplied in response to an email request made to email@example.com.
Since 1998 TB levels have quadrupled in England whilst they have halved in Ireland
Details are given here.
In Great Britain the proportion of cattle reacting to the tb test reduced by a factor of 4 in just 5 years after 1960
The graph below shows the number and rate of tuberculin test reactors disclosed annually in Great Britain from 1956 to 2006. This was reproduced from the Report of the Chief Veterinary Officer 2006, Defra 2007.30
Recorded cattle incidences started to rise during the 'interim strategy' which was a badger culling startegy implemented between 1986 and 1998
largely due to the economic costs of the previous strategy.
Gassing of badger setts took place between 1975 and 1982.
The 'clean ring strategy' was introduced in 1982 and involved cage trapping badgers on land occupied by affected cattle herds, then on adjoining land, expanding outwards until no further infected animals were captured.62
In 1986 this approach was replaced by the 'interim strategy' which involved culling badgers only on land occupied by affected cattle herds. The last 'interim' culls were performed in 1998, prior to the start of the RBCT.62
This 'interim' strategy was recommended because a cost-benefit analysis63 showed the high cost of the clean ring policy could not be economically justified.27
- DEFRA does not collate the number of newly infected herds which are closed.
A closed herd is often used to describe a herd in which all stock is replenished by artificial insemination. All cattle movement is recorded by the British Movement Cattle Scheme. In order to continue trading a farmer has to update a document known as a passport whenever an animal is bought or sold. It follows that this tracking system can be used to identify the incidence of Bovine TB in closed herds. If DEFRA were to collate the number of newly infected herds which are closed, this would help to reveal the extent to which the disease is being spread by non cattle-to-cattle means. One such source is through badger-to-cattle contact such as occurs when cows ingest grass close to badger setts9 and when badgers enter farm buildings whilst searching for food.10 The following is an extract from a reply made by DEFRA who try to follow the guidelines outlined here when responding to requests.
We do not hold a record of the number of "TB restricted herds which solely rely on artificial insemination for regeneration and growth." Information on `closed herds' as we call them, is gathered during the disease inquiry following an incident of TB in a herd and is recorded on individual files at the time but is not collated to give an overall figure. In addition, occasionally, farmers will be forced to abandon their closed herd policy and buy in cattle because of the losses suffered during the breakdown, hence making our record inaccurate.
- There are no restrictions on where 'sick / mended' badgers are released by 'sanctuaries' .
These places are not licensed by DEFRA, and although they may use a 'voluntary protocol' to release badgers, this is neither drawn up nor approved by Defra.
Animal hospitals are not legally required to test badgers for Tb before release.64
About 70 badgers each year were reported65 in 2007 to be released by the wildlife rescue centre called Secret World.66 In 2003 a voluntary Badger Rehabilitation Protocol67 was drawn up by
- Secret World Wildlife Rescue
- National Federation of Badger Groups and
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Although it recommends testing badger cubs, it says the following regarding the testing of adult badgers.
An adult badger should not be blood tested for bovine TB for the following reasons:
- It will be released to its original location, so eliminating the opportunity for the spread of disease to new areas;
- Recent published data show that a single blood test is unreliable (Forrester et al., 2001);
- It is unlikely to be held in captivity long enough to conduct three blood tests.
The above extract67 refers to the release of untested adult badgers. The following extract66 refers to the release of badgers raised as cubs which the protocol67 does recommend testing. The RBCT Final Report27 described the ELISA badger test (or Brock test) as having low sensitivity which severely constrained abilities to identify and remove infected social groups. The protocol67 recommends applying this test 3 times to improve the detection rate.
Because badgers are highly social and territorial animals the release is not simple, by the time the cubs are ready for release they will not be able to be returned to where they were found, if that is known, because they will be treated as aliens by the resident badgers, at best being driven off and at worst killed, this means that a release site for the entire site has to be found.
In worst affected areas of GB more than half of badgers are now infected with TB
In 2006, infection was detected in 53% of the 112 badgers tested. The sensitivity of the combined test was reported to lie between 61% and 86%. At face value if this sensitivity is taken into account, the actual proportion of badgers infected in 2006 exceeded 70%. After 3 years, infection levels in vaccinates were calculated to be 33.8% compared to 36.8% in controls. This translates to the vaccine reducing badger infection by 8%. (36.8 - 33.8) / 36.8% = 8%. Due to small sample size this percentage should be treated as approximate. In addition to this, badgers were vaccinated on a group by group basis and not across a wide area so the mixing between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups was greater. This presented a greater challenge to those groups which were vaccinated and reduced the force of the infection to the control groups. Both of these influences would cause the impact of the vaccine to be less than if the vaccine were applied over a wide area as it typically would be in practice. However the very small benefit of the vaccine on badgers after 3 years as shown in the above graph gives no reassurance that a noticeable and worthwhile impact will be seen in cattle after 5 years in the Intensive Action Area of Wales.
For a more complete picture of how the vaccine reduced disease levels in badgers in the Gloucestershire trial, please click here.
Farmers have been spending thousands of pounds on biosecurity. Having said this,
indications are such that this is an area where some farmers, depending on whether their setup allows,
should be giving more attention. For example, diseased badgers tend to take up
residence close to easily found food sources in the last few months of their lives.
Typically this would be in or close to farm buildings.
It is probably the smaller number with
advanced disease, that result in overspill from the reservoir of infection in badgers, which infect
cattle.9 These moribound super excretors are shedding large volumes of bacteria and are in frequent and close contact with cattle so,
where buildings are open, perhaps
measures should be taken to keep these badgers out.
Click on the thumbnails below to see pictures of a wall and sheeted gates designed to stop badgers entering farm buildings.
The cost of the above badger barrier plus a third gate came to £9403.81 excluding VAT. This cost breaks down as follows.
Item Cost (£) Sand 135.10 Concrete blocks 396.00 Cement 133.71 Labour for wall construction 2092.00 Steel + labour for metal work 6647.00 Total 9403.81
This work was carried out on a small, 100-cow, family-run, dairy farm which went down with bovine TB in the summer of 2008. This is a closed farm in so far as no new stock from outside herds had been allowed on the farm and no stock had been taken off and returned to the farm since 1989. This farmer was fortunate in so far as the layout of the buildings were such that erecting a badger barrier was not prohibitively expensive. Many farm building layouts however are too open to allow effective sealing without incurring massive investment.
Subsequent to sealing his buildings in Sep 2008 this farmer cleared all tests up to April 2012 but failed the test in April 2013 with one reactor cow and again in October 2013 with two reactors.
The relevant dates are as follows.
Date Action Result Notes Jul08 Annual test Fail Confirmed Sep08 60-day test Fail 2 inconclusives Sep08 - - Buildings were sealed at a cost of £9403.81 to the farmer and each night badgers were excluded from all buildings containing any cattle, feed and troughs. Nov08 60-day test Pass - Feb09 60-day test Pass This was the second, consecutive, clear test so the farmer is now free to trade. Jul09 6-month test Pass - Jun10 Annual test Pass - Jun11 Annual test Pass - Mar12 - - A brand-new slurry spreader was purchased for exclusive use on the farm to avoid the risk of using shared, contaminated equipment. Apr12 Annual test Pass - Apr13 Annual test Fail 1 reactor. Confirmed by culture only. Jun13 60-day test Fail 1 inconclusive. Confirmed by finding lesions. Aug13 60-day test Pass - Oct13 60-day test Fail Different vet did the test from last time. 2 reactors. 1 confirmed by finding lesions. Dec13 60-day test Pass Original vet did the test Feb14 60-day test Pass Original vet did the test. This was the second, consecutive, clear test so the farmer is now free to trade.
Since installing the barriers in 2008, each building was secured using the installed badger barriers at the end of each working day. In addition to allowing no new stock from outside herds to be allowed on the farm and taking no stock off and returning no stock to the farm since 1989, the farmer in March 2012 purchased a brand-new slurry spreader which has been used exclusively on the farm to avoid the risk of using shared, contaminated equipment.
Unfortunately the farm contains a number of badger setts. This may be relevant in view of the following extract taken from Reference 85.
It is known that badgers will roam more than a mile in search of food and although they use communal dung pits, faeces have been found on the surface of pasture and in hedgerows. They also urinate randomly. Pasture can therefore be contaminated by infected badgers and can thus be a hazard to healthy cattle when grazing despite vigorous control procedures within herds at risk.
The farmer who had taken all the measures described above to keep badgers out of his buildings (including £9000 on badger barriers) found in the week ending 14th March 2014, which was a month after becoming free to trade again, two dead badgers within a distance of 3 small fields apart in fields either side of his secured buildings. These were found whilst repairing fences prior to turning his cattle out to these fields. Diggings which appeared to be made by badgers were found at a distance from hedges which would have been difficult to fence off. Surrendering complete fields to these badgers was not an option on this small family-run farm. Pictures of the badgers, one of which was very badly decomposed are shown below.
On 8th October 2013 Farmers Weekly Interactive reported that Christianne Glossop the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales explained the following.98
The Gelli Aur college dairy farm in Carmarthenshire was a typical example of the current problem.
Its farm manager, John Owen, has been grappling with TB for the past five years and has seen 400 cattle slaughtered due to TB, she explained.
She was also quoted as saying the following.
"The farm cat died of TB. They have been subject to 60-day testing, been fully compliant with all the rules and regulations and have very good biosecurity. Yet they are dealing with that problem for all that time. That's not unusual."
- Farmers are leaving the industry because of bovine TB
Farmers in TB hotspot areas are finding it difficult to survive because of
- the disruption, inconvenience and cost of implementing biosecurity such as sealing buildings as illustrated above for which no compensation is received from the government
- the rigors of bovine tb testing every 60 days when a herd is infected
- loss of irreplaceable bloodlines
- the limited market when selling unslaughtered stock from a TB restricted herd
- the thought of turning out cattle into summer pastures which may be overrun by badgers
These issues are accelerating the rate at which farmers are leaving the industry.
- Out of Northern Ireland, Wales, the Irish Republic, New Zealand and England, England's dairy herd numbers have reduced the most rapidly reaching an average disposal rate of 8 herds per day between June 2003 and June 2004.
The rate at which dairy herd numbers are reducing each year gives an indication of the rate at which dairy farmers are leaving the industry. Out of Wales, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, New Zealand and England, the greatest reduction since 2000 is seen in England. In fact the number in 2008 was less than 60% of what it was in 2000. In New Zealand the number was over 85% so in New Zealand the reduction was much less. In England between June 2003 and June 2004 the number of holdings with 10 or more dairy cows reduced from 17,091 to 14,260. This represents a 17% drop and, without including beef herds, an average rate of 8 herds per day.
Data for the above graph was sourced as shown below.
New Zealand Request (Sent 09Apr09) Reply (Received 14Apr09) Received data Wales Request (Sent 09Apr09) Reply (Received 27Apr09) See reply Northern Ireland Request (Sent 09Apr09) Reply (Received 27Apr09) See reply Irish Republic Request (Sent 09Apr09) Reply (Received 29Jun09) Received data England Request (Sent 09Apr09) Reply (Received 07May09) Received data
- At the current rate of decline, the majority of current dairy farmers may have left the dairy industry before the first positive affects of badger vaccination are seen
The British Cattle Veterinary Association14 said in July 2008 that Bovine TB vaccination will not be effective in badgers for the next 12 years. If this prediction turns out to be true, the graph below shows that this will be too late for the majority of farmers at the current rate at which they are leaving the industry.
- Between 1994/95 and 20010/11, milk production in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has increased whereas production in England has clearly reduced
England has approximately 10,000 dairy farms. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are a further 6,000.38 Between 1994/95 and 2010/11 milk production in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has increased whereas production in England clearly reduced.
To see a graph of how England's milk production has reduced in relation to that of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, please click here.
Such data was sourced as shown below.
Milk production Request (Sent 15Apr09) Reply (Received 05May09) Received data
Out of England, Wales and Scotland, milk production to the economy makes the least contribution in England as shown in the table below.
Country Milk production
Gross Value Added
in 2008 (£bn)59
made to GVA
assuming an average
milk price of 25 ppl(%)
England 8.7 1081.4 0.20 Wales 1.4 45.6 0.77 Scotland 1.3 108.8 0.30
In March 2009, milk production in the UK reached a 35-year low.31 In October 2008 Ireland, Germany and Italy were heavily fined for over producing whereas production in England was well under quota.13 The milk quota deficit in the UK will present export opportunities for neighbouring countries, particularly in the case of Cheddar cheese39.Cheese is the UK's largest dairy import category. In fact the UK is one of the largest markets for cheddar in the world and UK cheese production is expected to decline over the next 5 years (to 2015). Reference 39, which was published in September 2009, presents a revealing and detailed picture of the state of world markets in dairy products.
- In 8 years since 2000, the UK's trade deficit in milk and dairy produce has steadily increased from £500m to £1,200m.
trade deficit = imports - exports
The following graph shows how the UK's trade deficit in milk and dairy products has increased since 1990.
The figures were reported by DairyCo50 to be sourced from Customs & Excise and are shown in the following link labelled "Received data".
Trade Deficit Request (Sent 10Jun11) Reply (Received 13Jun11) Received data
Good questions to ask
- Why is the incidence of bovine tb in the UK and Ireland more than 5 times23 greater than in any other European country?
- In all but 3 years in the last 20 years (up to 2006), the incidence of bovine tb in Great Britain has significantly increased each year and there has been a very large increase in the last year (2008). Why did the proportion of cattle reacting to the tb test in Great Britain reduce by a factor of 4 in just 5 years after 1960? How was this achieved and why can we not do this now?
- How has New Zealand been able to reduce the number of infected herds from 1500 to 150 in 10 years since 1994? (These numbers were read off a bar chart in the Government Veterinary Journal.)
Until recently, out of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, England was the only country which was not looking at reducing badger numbers as part of its bovine TB eradication plan.
On 7th July 2008 Hilary Benn issued a statement saying that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB. Prior to making this statement Mr Benn referred to the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) which was overseen by the Independent Scientific Group. He observed that bovine TB increases outside a culled area due to disturbance and movement of badgers. Work which followed on from the RBCT, and which was funded by Defra and published on 9th April 2008 continued to monitor herd breakdown incidences after culling stopped in October 2005. This work11 found that breakdown incidences were 54% lower in culled areas, instead of 23% lower as reported in the RBCT, and that in neighbouring areas where the negative affects of perturbation were seen, incidences were actually 23% lower instead of 24% higher. In other words, after culling ceased, incidence reductions were sustained. In fact radical benefits were seen in both the culled and adjacent areas. In fact data published in April 2011 showing data up to February 2011, which is 5.5 years after culling stopped, shows that in the treatment areas herd incidence is still 37% lower than that in the survey-only areas.60
In view of this, how can it be said that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB?
In the Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB27 it says "we have concerns,
previously expressed, concerning the capacity of Defra policy groups to translate scientific
findings into policy. This we consider stems, in part, from Defra's own organisational
structures which we believe enforce a separation of policy development and the scientific
evidence on which policy should be based."
Is the decision on badger culling an example of where scientific findings do not properly translate into policy? Please click here for more detail.
In South Devon, a farmer found in 2008 that his whole herd cleared the test for tb only then to find that cattle slaughtered after clearing the test exhibited tb lesions. Conversely, it was reported18 in May 2008 that a farmer of pedigree guernseys suffered the slaughter of 80 cows to then find that only 5 showed symptoms during examinations after slaughter. How much is the government spending on improving the sensitivity and accuracy of testing techniques compared to the bill of £ 60m19 which the tax payer is paying each year for routine testing and compensation?
It should be noted however that if the disease is not found in a post-mortem examination the animal may still be infected. Click here for an explanation why.
The proportion of false negative and false positive results when TB testing, and a request to and response from DEFRA regarding this, is shown here.
- Why is the cost of a TB test three times greater in England than it is in New Zealand. Please click here for details.
- Milk production in the UK in March 2009 was the lowest it has been for 35 years.31 In addition to this the average age of dairy farmers is now 60.20 Has the government properly looked into the repercussions should the supply base shrink further, processing plants close and hard-to-create infrastructure is lost?
- Vaccination of badgers by injection will be difficult and expensive to administer.
An oral vaccine for badgers is not expected to be available until 2014.
In fact the National Trust in the BBC April 2011 announcement to vaccinate badgers on its estates said that it will be injecting the vaccine.
Although in theory the vaccination of cattle may offer the most expedient solution, it is illegal by European law. In fact, EU legislation currently prohibits the use of bovine tuberculosis vaccines, as the use of injectable BCG vaccine for bovine tuberculosis in cattle interferes with the current tuberculin skin test. Changing such legislation will require successful negotiation with the Commission in Brussels and other member states.26
How does the government believe it is going to be able to legalise the vaccination of cattle when 11 European countries have in recent years been bovine tb free?23
- In 2009/10 the tax payer paid £87 million58 to address bovine TB in Great Britain. By how much does this cost need to rise or what disease development needs to occur before it is universally accepted that a comprehensive and robust set of measures is needed to reduce bovine TB?
When did things start to go wrong?Farmers in high incidence areas of England are now being asked to foot the bill for culling badgers when in 1986 it was decided not to continue funding the clean ring strategy because it was deemed to be too expensive.
The 'clean ring strategy' was introduced in 1982 and involved cage trapping badgers on land occupied by affected cattle herds, then on adjoining land, expanding outwards until no further infected animals were captured.
In 1986 this approach was replaced by the 'interim strategy' which involved culling badgers only on land occupied by affected cattle herds. The last 'interim' culls were performed in 1998, prior to the start of the badger culling trial known as the RBCT.
This 'interim' strategy was recommended and implemented because a cost-benefit analysis showed the high cost of the clean ring policy could not be economically justified.
What a mistake!!
Many farmers in high incidence areas are now leaving the industry because of the expense and lingering hardship associated with bovine TB.
In 2000, according to Customs & Excise, the annual UK dairy trade deficit was less than £0.5b. In the ten years since then the deficit has steadily increased so that in 2010 the deficit exceeded £1.2b.
What is seen as the future for farming in South West England and what are the reasons behind this distinct lack of willingness to allocate the necessary resource and commitment to address bovine TB in this country?
There are two reasons why the burgeoning badger population is not being addressed to achieve TB free status. One is the government's unwillingness to make a commitment and put serious investment into achieving a long term aim. The other is loss of votes in the face of a misinformed public who do not understand the reasons why the EU is not sanctioning cattle vaccination and why badger vaccination is currently seen as an unproven, high risk, distant solution for which badger trials on an oral vaccine in England and Wales have not even started.
Ways forwardCurrent strategies are not working. Bold measures are needed to bring benefits in a timescale which will help the current industry.
- If disease eradication is the goal, one option would be to change the legal status of badgers to match that in the rest of Europe.74 This will bring about a large reduction in the size of the badger population. As the size of the problem continues to grow, pressure to remove protection status will increase.
- After farmers are given back the ability to control risk from the badger vector, the farming industry must take on more of the financial burden. In tackling bovine TB, New Zealand are widely regarded as being world leading. However New Zealand did not start to get on top of their problem unitl farmers took control of the problem. In order to achieve this, the farming industry must be prepared to take on more of the financial burden as was done in New Zealand,83 and become less dependent on state-financed compensation.
Potential for recoveryCumbria was by far the worst affected county for Foot and Mouth. In fact so many cattle were slaughtered in 2001 in Cumbria that cattle number was about half what it was in 2000.82 Suspension of TB testing and subsequent restocking to fill the void caused strains of TB which were specific to Devon to appear in Cumbria. The test interval in 2000 throughout Cumbria was 4 years and in 2004 measured levels of TB peaked.82 Disease levels then dropped each year for the next 3 years as a result of annual testing in affected areas. In fact disease levels had largely recovered by 2007 and in Cumbria at the time of writing this (Dec 2012) most of Cumbria in terms of geographical area is still tested only once every 4 years.84 This gives an indication of how effective cattle measures can be in the absence of a wildlife vector and why it is so necessary to eliminate the wildlife vector in the South West of England and Wales.
Future prospects, the need to act now, and lack of support from DEFRABovine TB has the potential to cripple cattle farming in the UK. More than 95% of commercial dairy herds which have existed since 1990 have been TB restricted in the worst affected counties in South West England.86 Dairy enterprise setups depend on the continual sale of young stock to maintain running financial capital. If a restricted dairy herd fails to go clear after the minimum 4-month period, mounting pressure due to overstocking can lead to formidable stress. The combined impact of
- inability to sell stock at unrestricted markets,
- escalating feed prices from over-stocking,
- increasing workload as unsold stock accumulates,
- reduced income, and
- inability to plan due to uncertainty over the next test result
Both DEFRA and the NFU exclusively quote the results of the RBCT badger culling trial from which it is estimated that at best a 16% benefit in terms of reduced TB can be expected over a 9-year timescale if the cull takes place in a 150km2 area.92 In the last 9 years, TB in terms of both cattle and herd incidence has increased by 65% as shown in Fig 100 below. As such, for a cull area of 150km2, if no other factors change except for the culling of badgers, TB incidence can be expected to continue to climb substantially even if the expected benefit of culling is achieved. It should be noted that the 2 pilot areas in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset measure 311km2 and 256km2 respectively.99 However if account is only taken of what happens inside the cull area with no account for the negative impact outside it, the upper limit to the benefit is still only limited to about 27%.92
Fig 98 below shows how the total number of TB-infected herds in the South West and the Thornbury district has changed since 1981. Unlike the partial culling carried out during the RBCT, badgers were cleared from the Thornbury district between 1975 and 1981 and then allowed to recolonize from 1981 onwards. The data was supplied by DEFRA, and it can be seen that bovine TB levels dropped substantially and have remained low relative to levels across the whole of South West England for at least 30 years. If this relative difference is due to the culling of badgers, this is an enormous payback for just 6 years of culling effort.
It should be noted that Fig 98 below shows total herd incidences (confirmed + unconfirmed). In order to reveal more clearly the impact of culling, results presented in the RBCT analysis use confirmed incidences only.97 In fact if confirmed incidences for the Thornbury exercise are examined only, no incidences occurred from 1981 to 1991 i.e. for 10 years after culling stopped.96
It is believed that this substantial impact was principally due to the culling of badgers. In fact Section 5.77 on Page 114 of the RBCT Final Report27 states that culling was very likely to be the reason for the reduced cattle TB incidence inside the gassing area. Also when questioned by Owen-Paterson in 2004, the then Under Secretary of State for DEFRA, Ben Bradshaw, replied as follows.91
No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area.
Further details of the data shown in the above graph are given here.
However both DEFRA and the NFU are ignoring what has happened in the Thornbury district.
When DEFRA quotes expected benefits based on the partial culling carried out in the RBCT it affectively says to the British public, that in future policy, badger culling cannot play a big part in TB control and that bigger gains will be had through looking at other issues. Judging by comments in the media, this is what a large proportion of the public believe, and this is of course very understandable in view of the information which DEFRA and the NFU are putting across to them.
But how can an area be thoroughly culled and then left for badgers to recolonize when the Bern convention forbids it? Does it forbid it? This is open to interpretation. In the convention, there is an exception that allows for the regulated management of wildlife for the purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock provided this is not detrimental to the survival of the population concerned.93,94
In addition to this, DEFRA are not prepared to take responsibility and play an active part in culling badgers. They are leaving this to farmers who neither have the time, the organisational structure, nor the mustered resource to carry out this challenging role properly. As illustration of a vital role which DEFRA are not taking towards bovine TB control, on 24th June 2013, DEFRA replied to a request90 under the Environmental Information Regulations Act saying there were no research and development projects investigating alternative culling methods to free shooting, and as such no trials of alternative culling methods were being run.
Not all governments are giving their cattle industry low priority. In fact, the Irish government places food at the heart of an export led growth strategy.87 Indeed Ireland are looking to significantly increase milk production in the next 10 years.88 TB can have a dreadful impact not only on dairy farms but also on beef farms and farms with other farmed cattle. However, if Ireland makes a serious attempt to increase its milk production in the next 10 years, the weak measures outlined in DEFRA's recently announced draft strategy89 coupled with DEFRA's drive to redirect CAP funding from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 will only help to turn Ireland's ambition into reality. This will be helped by the shrinkage of a TB-restricted and CAP-disadvantaged dairy industry in England and Wales.
- Mycobacterium bovis
- DEFRA Archive: Incidence of TB in Cattle. (The link to this page at http://archive.defra.gov.uk/evidence/statistics/foodfarm/landuselivestock/cattletb/ index.htm was removed on 20Feb2012 due to DEFRA stating in a personal email that this old page is only being retained pending archiving and removal.)
- Detailed TB Statistics: 1 January - September 2008 (West region)
- Detailed TB Statistics: 1 January - 5 October 2008 (Republic of Ireland)
- Minister Coughlan rejects Badger Trust/ Badgerwatch Ireland Report
- Value for money and policy review - Bovine tuberculosis Eradication Programme (1996 - 2006)
- Bovine TB: Key herd / animal statistics (by county):1998-2008
- Gabriel, Grills & Associates - veterinary practice Ivybridge - Filham Park Veterinary Clinic
- Tuberculosis in badgers; a review of the disease and its significance for other animals
- An investigation of potential badger/cattle interactions including the extent of badger visitations to farm buildings and food stores, and how cattle husbandry methods may limit these.
- The effects of annual widespread badger culls on cattle tuberculosis following the cessation of culling
- Transcript of Hilary Benn's announcement in 7 July 2008 of the policy not to issue any licenses to farmers to cull badgers
- Tough times ahead as milk production sinks to new low
- Bovine TB vaccination will not be effective in badgers for next 12 years says BCVA
- DEFRA Archive: Complete sets of low-level agricultural survey data supplied by DEFRA. (The link to this page at http://archive.defra.gov.uk/evidence/statistics/foodfarm/landuselivestock/junesurvey/ results.htm was removed on 20Feb2012 due to DEFRA stating in a personal email that this old page is only being retained pending archiving and removal.)
- Rural Payments Agency
- Milk production hits 34-year low
- Pictured: The dramatic moment a prize cow is slaughtered after controversial blood test showed signs of TB
- Breakdown of bovine TB expenditure in Great Britain: 1998/99 - 2007/08 (£ m)
- Dairy farmers driven out of the industry
- Number of TB infected herds in the Irish Republic
- Number of TB infected herds in New Zealand
- Government Veterinary Journal
- Number of TB infected herds in Northern Ireland
- The Way Forward on Tuberculosis (TB)
- Agriculture: Vaccines: 21 Jul 2008
- Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB
- Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis in the EU
- EU funding threat over bovine TB
- Animal Health 2006: The Report of the Chief Veterinary Officer
- Dairy Market Update
- UK milk production between 1998 and 2008. England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland breakdown.
- UK milk production data.
- TB Testing Time And Motion Study
- Compensation paid to farmers for Bovine TB
- Bovine TB expenditure for GB 2008/09
- Background to the milk industry
- The Milk Roadmap
- An assessment of the short to medium term outlook for global dairy products
- Benefits of badger culling not long lasting for reducing cattle TB
- Badger Culling Not a Cost Effective Means of Protecting Cattle
- The Duration of the Effects of Repeated Widespread Badger Culling on Cattle Tuberculosis (Source)
- The Duration of the Effects of Repeated Widespread Badger Culling on Cattle Tuberculosis (Copy)
- The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings.
- £600,000 study to assess attitudes towards badger vaccination.
- House of Commons Research Paper on Bovine Tuberculosis dated 1st June 1998.
- UK production and consumption of liquid milk from 1973 to 2008
- UK production and consumption of milk products from 1973 to 2008
- DEFRA Statistics: Food and Farming (This link at https://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg was temporarily made available by the DEFRA statistics team and was withrawn on 23 Mar 2011)
- UK Dairy Trade Balance
- RBCT: The Duration of Culling Effects
- RBCT: Analysis of further data to 2July2010
- Bovine Tuberculosis in cattle and badgers, a report by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King
- Table 1 in Reference 51
- Does reactive badger culling lead to an increase in tuberculosis in cattle?
- DEFRA consultation Sept 2010: Annex B - Scientific evidence on culling
- Great Britain and Republic of Ireland badger culling trials: An initial comparative study
- Bovine TB expenditure for GB 2009/10
- Regional, sub-regional and local gross value added 2009
- Analysis of further data (to 25 February 2011) on the impacts on cattle TB incidence of repeated badger culling
- National Trust estate giving badgers TB vaccinations
- The effects of annual widespread badger culls on cattle tuberculosis following the cessation of culling - Supplementary Information
- BADGERS AND BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS - REVIEW OF POLICY. MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD. G M Dunnet, D M Jones, J P Mclnerney. March 1986.
- Relocation, Relocation, Relocation - Tb Takeaways.. Sunday, August 08, 2004
- Update on relocation of badgers. Monday, February 12, 2007
- Secret World - Wildlife Rescue - Badger Rehabilitation
- Badger Rehabilitation Protocol. March 2003
- Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis 2009 by the Mammal Society
- Gassing of badger setts
- Number of TB-infected herds in New Zealand in November 2011 was at an all-time low
- Bovine TB: Expenditure for 2010/11 in England
- Bovine TB: Expenditure for 2010/11 in Wales
- Bovine TB: Expenditure for 2010/11 in Scotland
- The conversation and management of the European badger (Meles meles). Nature and environment, No. 90. Council of Europe. Authored by H.I Griffiths and D.H Thomas. 1997.
- The History, Distribution, Status and Habitat Requirements of the Badger in Britain. Peterborough; Nature Conservancy Council. Authored by P Cresswell, S Harris and DJ Jefferies. 1990.
- Protection of Badgers Act 1992 - Licensing statistics
- Effectiveness of Biosecurity Measures in Preventing Badger Visits to Farm Buildings. Johanna Judge, Robbie A. McDonald, Neil Walker, Richard J. Delahay. 2011.
- Southwest TB Farm Advisory Service - What we offer.
- Bovine TB: a review of badger-to-cattle transmission. Adrian R. Allen, Robin A. Skuce, Stanley W. J. McDowell. 31 March 2011.
- Bovine TB: a review of badger-to-cattle transmission. Adrian R. Allen, Robin A. Skuce, Stanley W. J. McDowell. 31 March 2011.
- Transmission from badgers to cattle in farm buildings
- Impact of Foot and Mouth
- Ways in which New Zealand has reduced bovine TB
- Map of TB testing intervals 2012
- Bovine Tuberculosis in Badgers. Report by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. November 1976.
- Bovine TB: Tb-free commercial dairy herds. ATIC0102. AHVLA, DEFRA. 24 June 2013.
- Ireland sees potential for big milk export push. dairyreporter.com. 21st July 2010.
- Is Europe Gearing Up for Greater Milk Production? thedairysite.com. 22 October 2012.
- Draft Strategy for Achieving "Officially Bovine Tuberculosis-Free" Status for England. www.defra.gov.uk. 4th July 2013.
- ALTERNATIVE METHODS OF CULLING. ccu.correspondence @defra.gsi.gov.uk. RFI 5525. 24 June 2013.
- Badgers/Bovine TB. ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS. Written Answers to Questions. 24 March 2004.
- Bovine TB - Key conclusions from the meeting of scientific experts1, held at Defra on 4th April 2011
- Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling. A consultation document issued by DEFRA. Consultation Issued: 15 December 2005.
- Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. Bern, 19.IX.1979.
- Proportion of TB infected herds in each county of Great Britain
- The occurrence of Mycobacterium bovis infection in cattle in and around an area subject to extensive badger control. R S CLIFTON-HADLEY et al. Epidemiology Department, Central Veterinary Laboratory, Surrey. Accepted 3 October 1994.
- Is specificity of the skin test as high as DEFRA claims?
- Eradicating TB requires 'every tool' - Glossop. www.fwi.co.uk. Philip Case. Tuesday 08 October 2013.
Other relevant sources of information
- Badgers and cattle TB: Response to the Committee's 10th Report of Session 2007-08
- Wildlifeonline - Badgers & Bovine Tuberculosis
- The impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland
- The Gamma interferon test
- Woodland Trust: Position statement. Bovine Tuberculosis in cattle and badgers
- Video of a badger gaining access to a bin when searching for food
- Pictures of a badger found dead in a field in an area badly affected by bovine TB.
- Bovine TB in Alpacas and Llamas (Camelids)
- Bovine TB Blog
- www.bovinetb.co.uk - Looking for the reform of a costly and misguided system
- Bovine TB - A Way Forward (25 minute video)
- Public health and bovine tuberculosis:what's all the fuss about?
- House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Badgers and cattle TB: the final report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 Volume I
- Field Services South West Ltd
- NFU TB Free England
- Jan Rowe talks about bovine TB
- Bovine Tb Strategy - Review of Costs
- The European badger - Revised October 2011
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