Bovine TB – The Facts by dfsiopmhy6


									 Bovine TB – The Facts                                                                                  June 2009

Bovine TB…
    makes life a misery for thousands of farming families
    costs taxpayers around £80 million over 2007/8
    results in the premature slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle each year
    poses a very real threat to the beef and dairy industries
    causes a huge degree of sickness and death in the badger population
    is spreading into other species

                 Doing nothing about bovine TB, in badgers as well as in cattle, is simply not an option

What is the NFU doing about bovine TB?
In 2008 the NFU led over 150 farmers in a protest outside the House of Commons over the decision by the Secretary of
State not to cull badgers in the fight against bovine TB.

NFU President Peter Kendall made three pledges to members:
  The NFU would press for an independent body to ‘take the politics out of animal health’ and would resist
   ‘cost sharing’ of animal health measures
  The NFU would take legal advice on the feasibility of challenging the decision through the courts.
  The NFU would go to the European Commission to see if there was any way of challenging Defra.

An industry-wide stakeholder group, brought together by the NFU, called on government to eradicate bovine TB putting
their collective name to an eight-point statement of agreement. Included in the eight points was a call for an independent
body to take on the future decision-making for animal health; a commitment of non-participation in the TB Partnership
Group as announced by the Secretary of State, and an industry policy of resistance to cost sharing on animal health and
welfare issues.

The NFU supported a member’s private case challenging the table values for bTB compensation. In July 2008 the High
Court ruled in favour of the member and found that Defra’s approach to the valuation of high value animals was unlawful.
However, in the judgement handed down on 1 April 2009, the Court of Appeal said that there was no discrimination in
Defra’s approach to the valuation of high value animals. The NFU will continue to support the member in seeking leave to
appeal to the House of Lords following this decision.

The NFU is supportive of the England group on eradication of TB in cattle which has been set up to make
recommendations to the Secretary of State on bovine TB and its eradication. The membership of the group includes
representatives from Defra's Food and Farming Group, Animal Health, the farming industry and the veterinary profession.
It will be convened and facilitated by Defra:

The group is reviewing the current TB strategy and control measures and developing a plan for reducing the incidence of
bovine TB from cattle in England, moving towards eventual eradication. It is also assessing options to help farmers in
high incidence areas maintain viable businesses when under disease restrictions.

A priority output from the work of this group will be a series of measures which can be submitted to the European
Commission for approval as part of a formal eradication plan. The group may wish to make recommendations on other
issues as they arise, and Defra may also choose to refer specific issues to the group. The group will look at the options
available to address infection in cattle and to reduce the risk of transmission between cattle and between cattle and
wildlife, and consider costs and benefits in making recommendations for action. It will consider options for using
vaccination in cattle and badgers. It will also consider any exceptional circumstances or new scientific evidence that might
arise relating to the established policy on badger culling for control of TB. In carrying out this work the group will have full

The voice of British farming
NFU, Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2TZ
Tel: 02476 858500 Fax: 02476 858501
 Bovine TB – The Facts                                                                                   June 2009
access to information on Defra's TB budget and be able to make recommendations on its use within Defra's funding
ceilings. It will also be able to make recommendations for additional expenditure where these can be supported by a
robust business case.

Do badgers spread TB to cattle?
Unfortunately, yes. The link was first suspected in the early 1970s and both experience and experimentation has
subsequently proved it beyond doubt. Professor Sir John Krebs concluded in his 1997 report on the problem (1) that there
was ‘compelling evidence’ that badgers transmit TB to cattle. The programme of trials that followed his report
presupposed such a link and was designed to identify the most effective strategy for preventing TB in badgers spreading
into cattle populations. Even the National Federation of Badger Groups accepts (2) ‘that there is a bovine TB link between
badgers and cattle’.

How do cattle catch the disease from badgers?
Either by grazing grass that has been contaminated by urine or faeces from an infected badger or by eating cattle feed or
drinking water that has been contaminated either by urination or coughing by one or more infected badgers, or by direct
contact with dead or dying badgers with advanced TB.

But don't cattle also spread the disease, both to other cattle and to
Again, the answer is yes. That is why the UK has a programme of TB testing and slaughter in its national herd with cattle
tested more frequently in high disease areas. Infected cattle are identified, removed and slaughtered before active
infection has a chance to develop. There is also a difference in the immune response of the two species when challenged
by TB infection. Cattle ‘wall it off’, so that it is not excreted and does not spread from the lungs, other than by coughing;
badgers lack this ability and so have a much greater tendency to excrete the infection. Infected badgers are neither
treated nor slaughtered, allowing the disease to develop to the extent that they can excrete vast numbers of TB bacilli in
their dung, urine and sputum.

Is the badger an endangered species?
No. The badger protection legislation was introduced in the 1970s and 80s in order to stamp out the cruel practice of
badger baiting. Its effect has been to pave the way for a huge growth in the population of an animal that no longer has
any natural predators. The last official badger population survey in 1997 suggested that the badger population had
increased by 77% in the previous decade to between 300,000 and 400,000 (3). All the evidence suggests that the
increase since then has been significant (4), so that the total population is likely to be in excess of half a million. In many
parts of the South West there are now so many badgers that they have become a pest, endangering populations of
ground-nesting birds, hedgehogs and bumblebees and causing widespread damage to gardens, archaeological sites,
flood defences, golf courses, playing fields, houses, road bridges, railways and even graveyards!

Why are farmers so concerned about TB, given that they are paid
compensation for cattle that have to be slaughtered?
Farmers who lose cattle to TB through the test and slaughter regime are paid compensation. The compensation they
receive is based on a table of average market values. This system, introduced in February 2006, discriminates against
producers of high value animals. But there is a lot more to farming than money. It is heart-breaking for farmers and their
families to have to watch breeding cows, which should have had many more productive years ahead of them, taken off for
premature slaughter. It is also hugely disruptive to life on a farm and to business plans not to be able to sell any cattle
(other than for immediate slaughter). Farmers very often lack both the housing and feed to cope with animals that they

The voice of British farming
NFU, Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2TZ
Tel: 02476 858500 Fax: 02476 858501
 Bovine TB – The Facts                                                                                 June 2009
would have been planning to sell on to other farms for further rearing. The testing process is another major source of
stress and anxiety to farmer and cattle alike. And no farmer likes the thought that there is, or could be, disease in his or
her herd. Some farmers have become so weary and frustrated by repeated TB outbreaks that they have decided to go
out of beef or dairy production. If the situation is not addressed, the numbers of farmers quitting could rise sharply,
possibly to the extent that the beef and dairy sectors could be destabilised (5).

Do cattle movements spread TB?
The movement of infected cattle out of TB problem areas has been shown to be the most likely cause of the spread of
disease into previously ‘clean’ areas, but has not yet led to a persistent problem (6). Badgers are not implicated in these
areas because the infection rate is much lower. However, the vast majority of TB outbreaks occur in the ‘core’ TB areas of
the South West and the West Midlands, and in these areas up to 90% of new outbreaks can be attributed to infected
badgers (7). Cattle cannot move out of high risk areas without first having a negative pre-movement TB test.

Will culling infected badgers really reduce levels of disease in cattle?
Yes. Experience both in the UK and Southern Ireland (8) has shown that if you clear an area of infected badgers, at the
same time as slaughtering any infected cattle, you will greatly reduce and ultimately eliminate the disease. In the recent
‘four area’ trial in Ireland, outbreaks of TB in cattle were reduced by between 60% and 96% following badger removal
operations. Even more impressive results were achieved in the UK in the Thornbury and Steeple Leaze trial areas in the
1970s. The considerable practical difficulties of applying the lessons of the Irish trials are understood, but a way forward
has been suggested.

Why can't you vaccinate either cattle or badgers, or both?
Vaccination is an important tool in the long term. There is no vaccine available for either badgers or cattle, although work
is ongoing to develop vaccines as quickly as possible. An injectable badger vaccine could be available for limited use
from about 2010 – this is the earliest date possible, although the practicalities and cost of using this vaccine will prevent
its widespread use. An oral bait vaccine for badgers may be available from 2014. Cattle vaccines may not be available for
another 8-10 years and these will require major changes to EU and Domestic legislation to use them, as well as a
complementary test that can differentiate between vaccinated and infected cattle. There is no benefit in vaccinating
infected animals, so vaccination can only ever be part of a multi-faceted approach to combat this disease.

So what should the government do about TB?
We want the government to commit to a TB strategy that will lead to healthy populations of both cattle and badgers. The
cycle of disease transmission between cattle and wildlife, including badgers, must be broken. Only by doing this will rates
of infection start to fall and we can then protect healthy animals from this terrible disease. In areas of high TB incidence,
where there is a reservoir of infection in the badger population, action must be taken to remove this reservoir while
continuing to tackle disease in cattle. Ultimately, these cleared areas could then be recolonised with healthy or vaccinated

Can humans catch Bovine TB?
Yes. In the 1930s, when TB was widespread in the cattle population and before milk was routinely pasteurised, there
were as many as 3,000 human deaths a year from bovine TB (9). While universal pasteurisation of milk has almost
entirely eliminated any health risk to the general population, there remains a risk to dairy farmers, dairy herdsmen,
veterinary surgeons and other people who come into close contact with cattle and might be coughed on by an infected

The voice of British farming
NFU, Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2TZ
Tel: 02476 858500 Fax: 02476 858501
 Bovine TB – The Facts                                                                                                   June 2009

What about other species?
The results of a recent deer survey show that on Forestry Commission land in the South West peninsula, bovine TB is
present at a very low level (less than 1 per cent, except in one area where it is present at 3.8 per cent in fallow deer). In
the Cotswolds, high prevalence was found in two of the three areas sampled (15.9 per cent and 8.1 per cent) particularly
in fallow deer (10). In all areas surveyed, fallow deer were the species most likely to have the highest level of infection
with M. bovis (11). In 2002 there were 16 cases of Bovine TB identified in non-bovine species, with the majority (7) in
farmed red deer. This has increased to 50 positive cases in 2007, with the majority being found in wild red deer (20) and
domestic cats (15). There is no routine surveillance of bTB infection in non-bovine species, only passive surveillance, so
we could surmise that infection is becoming much more widespread (12).

How much does TB cost?
The total cost of TB, in compensation, research and testing, for the 2007/08 financial year, has provisionally been put at
£80 million (13). Provisional statistics show a 0.7 per cent increase in the number of new TB incidences in January 2008
to February 2009, compared to 3.6 per cent for the same period in 2008. Combined with an increase in the number of
herds tested over the same period this equates to a provisional overall decrease in the TB incidence rate of 0.8 per cent
(14). Over 39,000 cattle were slaughtered in Great Britain during 2008 as a result of bTB, the highest number yet.

1 Krebs J. et al (1997) Bovine Tuberculosis in cattle and badgers. Report to the Rt Hon Dr Jack Cunningham MP.
2 NFBG press release, November 4, 2003.
3 National Badger Surveys 1985-88 and 1994-97.
4 A Review of British Mammals (2004) JNCC.
5 Sheppard A. and Turner M. An economic impact assessment of bovine TB in the South West (2005). University of Exeter.
6 Gilbert et al. Cattle movements and bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain (2005).
7 Report (1995) of the Animal Health Services in GB MAFF.
8 Griffin et al. Impact of badger removal on tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland (2005). Preventive Veterinary Medicine.
9 Defra website (
10 Paterson A. report of the 2006 – 2007 South-west England and Cotswolds Survey of Tuberculosis in Deer (2008).
11 Ward et al. Exposure of cattle to Mycobacterium bovis excreted by deer in South West England: a quantitative risk assessment.
12 NFU FOI request to Defra for incidence statistics of bTB in non-bovine species from 1998 to 2007.
13 Defra website (
14 Defra / National Statistics website (

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Although every effort has been made to ensure accuracy neither the NFU nor the author can accept liability for errors and
omissions. For further information please contact the NFU Press Office on 024 7685 8678.

For more information visit

The voice of British farming
NFU, Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2TZ
Tel: 02476 858500 Fax: 02476 858501

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