Government takes action on bovine TB

The government has announced tough new measures to stop the spread of bovine TB (bTB) in the so-called ‘edge’ areas of the UK, amid fears the disease is spreading northwards and eastwards.

Defra said analysis had suggested that if left unchecked, the disease could spread northwards to Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire by 2022.

The measures, due to be introduced in October 2013, include more support for targeted badger vaccination, increased skin testing, gamma-interferon blood testing for herds that have had their TB Free Status withdrawn and closer control on the movement of cattle between high-risk and edge areas.

Defra said the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) would undertake new projects to identify likely locations of badger populations in the edge areas and to assess the rate of TB infection in local badgers, using animals killed in road traffic accidents.

Announcing the new measures, 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 must do everything we can to crack down on what is the biggest animal disease threat facing the nation.

“We are taking tough and decisive action on TB at the frontier of this disease to stop and then reverse the spread. The measures we are introducing this year will help protect vast areas of England from the scourge of TB and take a significant step towards our goal of eradicating TB within 25 years.”

Bovine TB is currently endemic in south west England, while Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and parts of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and East Sussex are currently considered part of the edge area.

Defra claimed that stamping out infection in the edge areas could save farmers an estimated £27m over 10 years by limiting the impact of bovine TB on their businesses, and reduce the risk of the disease spreading northwards. It said analysis had suggested that if left unchecked, the disease could spread to areas such as Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire by 2022.

Michael Seals, chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, said: “We cannot allow bTB to continue to spread and condemn more farmers to the fate of dairy and beef herds in the south and west of England who have to live in constant fear of the disease. The edge area measures are necessarily tough, but will provide significant savings to farmers over the next decade as we can contain and push back the frontier of TB."

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