Bovine TB 'worse than foot-and-mouth'

April 20, 2002 The Independent (London) by Ian Herbert North
A SENIOR government vet suggested yesterday that bovine tuberculosis could be more disastrous for the farming industry than foot-and-mouth. Two new outbreaks in Wales took the number of infected cattle culled there to more than 800, more than five times the figure for the whole of the last recorded year.

Ten beef cattle at a farm near Denbigh in north Wales - an area previously clear of TB - were destroyed on Thursday and tests are under way at 50 farms in Dyfed. The cases come on top of those confirmed in 130 herds across Wales in the first two months of this year - leading to the slaughter of more than 800 cattle, compared with 150 cases in 2000. Farmers have been warning about the disease for months amid delays over the controversial strategy of badger culling, based on scientific research conducted five years ago which stated badgers may harbour the bacterium that causes bovine TB.

The cull, delayed by foot-and-mouth is now being established in 10 regions of the UK where 12,500 badgers will be exterminated to see if the relationship exists. It is a contentious tactic since research earlier this year found that the genome of the organism that causes bovine TB is 99.9 per cent identical to that which causes the disease in humans - and that badgers may not be culpable.

The veterinary service in Wales is recruiting an extra 25 staff to stem the outbreak, amid signs it is moving from its traditional seats in Gwent and Dyfed. A north Wales veterinary manager, David Pugh, said the situation could be "as serious, if not more serious" than foot-and-mouth while the chief veterinary officer for Wales, Tony Edwards, agreed with claims by farmers that TB testing programmes had slipped because of demands on manpower during foot-and-mouth.

As herds on farms neighbouring the infected cattle in Denbigh were tested yesterday Mr Pugh warned farmers to take precautions and seek tests for any new stock. The disease is not as infectious as foot-and-mouth and only cattle diagnosed with it are culled.

Farming unions are on high alert, a week after the Farmers' Union of Wales warned about the disease. The Denbighshire and Flintshire officer, Sian Llwyd, said: "It seems we're coming out of one disaster and straight into another." Unions said they feared annual cases in Wales could leap to 4,000 and cost the economy pounds 200m.

The Welsh Assembly is now drawing up an interim strategy and introducing an improved blood test procedure.

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