The Bovine TB Problem

Bovine TB is a disease that affects cattle in many parts of the world.  The Welsh Government Website states the following:

"Bovine TB is caused by a bacterium and can affect all mammals. It is a notifiable disease because it can affect humans as well as animals. The risk to public health is kept low because of regular testing of cattle, milk pasteurisation and inspections at abattoirs. The disease has a significant impact on farms and the agricultural economy.
There is no effective treatment for infected cattle. The major cause of the spread of the disease is through cattle infecting other cattle. To control the disease we test cattle with the aim of identifying infection before they show any signs of illness. This helps us remove infected cattle before they have chance to infect others.
The control and eradication of this disease is complicated by the fact that wildlife, such as badgers and deer, can also be infected. This makes it difficult to eliminate the disease from areas where cattle and wildlife can infect each other."  Source: Welsh Government Website

Outline of the fight against bovine TB in Wales

Bovine TB is a chronic, debilitating infectious disease of cattle caused by Mycobacterium bovis (M bovis). This bacterium is also infectious to other domesticated mammals (including goats, deer, camelids), wildlife (particularly badgers and some species of deer) and also to humans. In the 1930’s in Britain there were approximately 2,500 human deaths each year from M bovis. Although human infection in Britain nowadays is rare, it is still diagnosed occasionally, usually associated with drinking raw cows milk.

The incidence of bovine TB in the UK and Ireland is the highest in Europe, although the distribution of infection is not uniform. Scotland is officially recognised as TB free, parts of northern and eastern England have very low levels, whilst SW England, west Wales and the border between England and Wales have very high levels of infection.

Member States of Europe with a TB problem are legally obliged to develop and deliver an approved Eradication Plan. The UK had its first joint plan approved by the EU in 2010.

The Welsh Government has a commitment to drive towards TB eradication. A comprehensive package of measures is in place aimed at tackling all sources of infection, and based on the four basic principles of infectious disease control:
* Keep it out
* Find it fast
* Stop it spreading
* Stamp it out
Every herd of cattle in Wales is tested for TB at least once a year. When a test identifies infected animals, they are valued and slaughtered. The owner is paid compensation by the Welsh Government equivalent to the value of the animal(s) taken. The rest of the herd is placed under movement restrictions (no cattle movements on or off the holding) whilst further testing takes place. It can take many months, and on occasion many years, to clear a herd of TB and a combination of lost livestock, regular testing and movement restrictions can have a devastating effect on the farming business. This is a heart breaking disease in so many ways.

The wildlife component of TB in Wales is primarily due to badgers. There are strongly held views regarding what should be done about the badger component of the problem. Evidence from badger culling trials indicates that this can help to reduce the incidence of infection in cattle – but this is an extremely contentious area and thus an unpopular policy with many. Alternative strategies have been developed e.g. vaccinating badgers, although this policy is very expensive and rather impractical, as currently badgers have to be cage trapped and injected. There is no proof that vaccinating badgers can improve the TB situation on local cattle, but many consider it reasonable to assume that this could be the case. New developments in oral vaccination could make a big difference to the practicalities of this approach. But vaccinating a badger that is infected already cannot be of benefit.

Vaccinating cattle may make an important contribution to TB eradication in the future. The use of vaccine in cattle is currently banned by the EU, and there is no vaccine licensed for use in cattle in the UK. Whilst preliminary work is underway, large scale field trials will need to take place in order to provide the evidence of any benefit, and these trials have not yet begun.

TB should be recognised as a disease on all levels – physical, emotional and spiritual.

November 2013