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WESTCOUNTRY FARMER: We cannot wait until 2038 to win bTB battle

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 20, 2014

Lisa Frain, son Kian and his Dexter heifer, facing slaughter over bTB

Comments (12)

The theme of this month’s Westcountry Farmer magazine is education and training in agriculture. With a burgeoning global population, growing concern about UK food security and the science of producing our food and drink moving on in leaps and bounds, there has never been a better time to work in farming or a sector allied to it.

We all need to eat. And as the population grows and developing countries become richer and their citizens develop a taste for a wider range of foods, particularly meat and dairy produce, UK farming has a bright future. In all sectors, from commodity farming to niche production of specialist food and drink, opportunities abound. There are even innovative ideas being developed that will get around the obvious problem for young entrants to farming of sky high land prices.

But for a well-qualified youngster to commit to a career in farming, he or she has to know that they can make a living. And while livestock farming offers excellent opportunities here in the South West, which has a long tradition of producing some of the best meat and milk in the world, thanks to the climate and the landscape, one big black cloud continues to hang over the sector.

Bovine TB is a fact of life for farmers in the Westcountry – or, more accurately perhaps – a fact of death. Across the whole country 14,413 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered due to bovine TB between January and May this year. That may be around 1,200 fewer than were slaughtered over the same six month period in 2013 but it is still an awful lot of animals, each one representing a serious blow to a farmer’s business. The vast majority of those animals were in the western half of the country, most on the farms of the far South West.

There is strong and growing evidence that, understandably, the Government’s priority in the years ahead is to try to prevent the disease taking a serious hold in other parts of the country. Where outbreaks do occur, as they have in some pockets away from our region, Defra are diverting resources to get on top of the outbreak, working on the basis, presumably, that it is more important – and simpler – to keep large parts of Britain TB-free, or almost free, than to clear a hotspot like the South West.

That, however, as chief vet Nigel Gibbens has acknowledged, is having its own negative impact on the Westcountry, a prime cattle rearing area where true expertise in turning out some of the finest pedigree cattle anywhere in the world, is in danger of being lost. Mr Gibbens told a briefing meeting on the Government’s TB stragegy that farmers in the Westcountry were “adapting.” He went on: “Producing high value pedigree animals is a risk and we are seeing a reduction in the number of farmers prepared to take that risk.”

The risk he talks of is not just that they will lose the pedigree animals to TB and recieve inadequate compensation. It is also that they will increasingly struggle to find a market for those animals as potential buyers from across the country – and indeed around the world – weigh up the risks of bringing a potentially infected animal from a known TB hotspot into their herds and decide to look elsewhere.

It is already happening. Paul Frain, whose family keep a small herd of pedigree animals near Launceston, told the WMN last week “The price you get for bulls down here is half what you could get when you move to a different area.” Any youngster embarking on a farming career in the South West is going to think twice about livestock against that sort of background.

That is why the single least acceptable part of the Goverment’s TB strategy is not the badger cull or ever tighter cattle movement restrictions. It is the fact that Defra cannot see the UK going TB-clear until 2038. We cannot wait that long.

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  • mmjames  |  August 27 2014, 10:43AM

    It's the way of a propagandist, JB. Read David's outing of the clueless one here http://tinyurl.com/o84ooe6

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  • Jake_Blake  |  August 27 2014, 5:31AM

    "Scottish cattle herds are probably smaller than English ones - and we know that larger herds are more vulnerable to bTB breakdowns." Probably? They're definitely not, Scotland has the highest average herd size in the UK and there in lies the problem, you just make it up as you go along and then wonder why reality takes a different view. The question lies in Wales as to why so much of the country was under 2 year testing when it was clear they were facing higher levels of TB? Wales has certainly not got TB under control, they've got it back to where it was which is still a historical high and there's no reason to believe that there areas that have been under HRA restrictions for some time are going to go clear soon which makes the idea that the whole nation going TB free in the near future a simple pipe dream. Well that's an interesting tactic Clued-Up, instead of addressing the many problems and issues with the model you instead decide to just quote from it's own over bloated press release. Well thanks for that uninteresting response, but if you have reason for the Warwick model to be taken seriously then you'll have to address the problems with the model. I stand by my comment and you have given me no reason to reconsider.

  • Clued-Up  |  August 23 2014, 11:09AM

    @Jake_Blake You're misinformed about the Warwick model. It's based on around 15 years of farm, regional and national bTB records and of the results of various bTB control measures attempted. It's accurate - the model can predict from its own internal structure what bTB outbreak records show actually happened. Because the model is so accurate we can be confident it'll be a good predictor of the relative benefits of future cattle bTB options. The Warwick model is the most comprehensive, sophisticated tool we've got for controlling cattle bTB. Following its advice, we could get rid of more than 80% cattle bTB in 5 years. I wonder why you're so keen to rubbish it?

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  • Clued-Up  |  August 23 2014, 10:58AM

    @Jake-Blake The point about Wales halving TB in 4 years is that the disease can be stopped - quite rapidly - when the correct cattle measures are implemented with determination. Past UK successes in reducing cattle bTB down to a "non problem" by cattle measures alone strongly indicate the Welsh are on track to achieve official bTB free status "in the fairly short-term future".

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  • Clued-Up  |  August 23 2014, 10:51AM

    @Jake_Blake Agree with your point that Scotland achieved official TB free status with a relatively weak bTB testing regime; and that it would be interesting (to say the least) to have good evidence how the Scots did so. The most likely explanation for the Scottish success is that the cattle risk factors for cattle bTB are lower in Scotland than in England. Scottish cattle herds are probably smaller than English ones - and we know that larger herds are more vulnerable to bTB breakdowns. Lower land values in Scotland and the pattern of farming mean there's likely to be more separation between herds, far less cattle movement, more grazing land per cow, more variation in cattle genetics than in England, greater demand for cattle bloodlines that can stand up to a much harsher climate (and the risk of infection), less intensive grazing ... You're suggesting the only difference is the health status of Scots badgers. I don't think you've any evidence to support your claim there's any difference between the health status of Scots badgers and English badgers.

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  • Jake_Blake  |  August 22 2014, 1:18AM

    Scotland achieved TB status with a weaker testing regime than that currently or even at the time seen in the HRA's. The big difference being the health status of the respective badger population which only goes to proves what a massive effect badgers have on TB in cattle. Wales has successfully halved TB in 4 years after successfully doubling it in the previous 4 years, i.e. they're back to square one. Achieving TB free status is Wales is still a long way off and it certainly wont be happening "in the fairly short-term future". The Warwick model which only analysed part of the problem and equated it for all (even mathematically that's poor) does not superseded the work of the RBCT which demonstrated large reductions of TB averaging out to 16% over 9 years. It's funny it wasn't that long ago another flawed piece about liver fluke was doing the rounds. Just like climate change deniers there's always a piece of dodgy science propping them up.

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  • Clued-Up  |  August 20 2014, 6:47PM

    Scotland has official bTB free status, Wales has halved its cattle bTB in 4 years and is progressing fast to the stage where the country has a realistic chance of qualifying for official bTB free status in the fairly short-term future. The Warwick model shows how England could reduce the amount of cattle bTB by more than 80% in 5 years IF government implemented and enforced a combination of cattle measures - cattle vaccination, at least annual testing of cattle throughout the UK, action to stop the bTB "super spreader" farms infecting healthy farms and so on. It's DEFRA and the NFU's mistaken policies (dragging their heels on cattle measures and wasting everyone's time and money killing badgers which play almost no part in the spread of cattle bTB) which have delayed effective control of the disease and caused so much harm to livestock farmers' livelihoods

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  • mmjames  |  August 20 2014, 6:46PM

    With all the lying propaganda, even from the mouths of those who should and probably do know better we won't EVER be free of zTuberculosis until there are no sentinel, tested cattle to remind us it is now a HUGE problem in our environment, sustained and spread by badgers in particular. Warwick has a lot to answer for with its cr@p so-called-research and should be pulled up or preferable shut down, sharply.

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  • ssimples  |  August 20 2014, 4:23PM

    Going clear by 2038 is a pipe-dream. Even in New Zealand where TB plummeted after 1995, TBfree status may not be achieved in 2020. GB needs a reality check if it thinks it is in with a chance of going clear in 2038.

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  • Free2opine  |  August 20 2014, 10:11AM

    ps When I referred to the "Greenies", it was because they seem to be running the country now, as "our Dave" doesn't appear to be able to control them. If it were any other group, say students kicking off about student loans, they would come down on them like a ton of bricks, but, it seems they are scared witless by the "Green Blobs" as OP so succinctly put it!!!!

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