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Measuring the Pros And Cons Of TB-Free Status

12 August 2009

UK - The pros and cons of TB-free status need to be measured carefully, says the National Beef Association (NBA).

The Scottish Government is correct to examine the benefits of TB-free status but it must make sure that beef industry structures are not damaged by the move – and that anti-TB prevention, and surveillance, continues after the transition phase is completed, said the NBA in a recent press statement.

The NBA welcomes any measure that raises the disease status of the national cattle herd and reduces the risk of exposure to TB, which is expanding at a compound rate of 18 per cent a year in England and Wales.

However, the NBA is also aware that Scottish farmers buy in more than 40,000 store and breeding cattle each year from other parts of the UK and so is urging both the Government, and the beef industry, to make sure it does not commit itself to TB-free status without a thorough review of possible consequences, some of them potentially quite painful.

“Scotland has done well to keep endemic TB outside its borders and most recently this has been achieved with the help of post-movement testing for all in-coming cattle from high risk TB areas that are not for immediate slaughter” explained the NBA’s Scottish vice-chairman, Hamish McBean.

“For Scotland to go forward with the officially free TB status, all cattle moving into Scotland regardless of where they come from should be pre and post movement tested because testing errors could allow some infected animals to pass the Tuberculin pre movement test.

However, this added testing requirement could make it harder for many Scottish feeders and breeders to buy the cattle they need from North of England markets, which is a low risk TB area.

“If this turned out to be the case then more store and breeding cattle are likely to brought into Scotland from high risk areas in England and Wales where the pre-movement testing of all cattle leaving the farm of origin is obligatory and buyers can be certain they have a large pool of correctly presented animals to choose from.”

The NBA believes Scotland’s beef industry structures could suffer if less store and breeding cattle were brought in from south of the border at the same time as the national cattle herd continues to contract.

“There would be reduced throughput at auction markets and less cattle to process for beef in Scotland so more auctions and abattoirs could close and national earnings from the sale of beef could shrink noticeably too,” said Mr McBean.

“However if it was decided that Scotland still gained from TB-free status on an overall basis the NBA would want to be sure that the disease did not develop unnoticed because regular surveillance will be limited after the transitional period is completed.”

“Nothing could do a TB-free Scotland more harm than for a handful of breeding animals to slip across the border still carrying TB, despite the pre-movement test, and then to incubate it, and spread it, over a period of years because their condition was not picked up quickly enough.”

“With this in mind the Association would recommend two year testing for breeding cattle and would also seek the development of a surveillance programme among wildlife because it would be just as disastrous for cattle owners if TB spread unnoticed among badgers and deer too,” Mr McBean added.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on Bovine Tuberculosis by clicking here.

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