Britain 'is facing £2bn bill for TB in cattle'
By Charles Clover
Tuberculosis in cattle will cost £2 billion over the next decade unless the Government takes the kind of determined action seen in the United States, the Tories warned yesterday. Owen Paterson, the party's agricultural spokesman, who has just returned from the US, said the government vet in charge of the problem was "utterly astounded" to hear about the "grotesque dimensions" of the epidemic in Britain.
Bovine tuberculosis affects 5,000 British farms a year, mostly in Gloucestershire and the South West, and the number of outbreaks is reportedly growing.
Some 20,000 cattle have to be slaughtered each year, which costs the Treasury £100 million in compensation.
Mr Paterson said the United States had succeeded where Britain has failed through a combination of fast diagnosis, strict controls on cattle movement and a vigorous programme of controlling wildlife that carry the disease.
In Britain the spread of the disease among cattle is widely blamed on the badger population.
In Michigan, white-tailed deer have been infecting cattle with TB since 1998. But the state has had a concerted plan to halve the deer population in the core infected area.
The governor has appointed a disease eradication co-ordinator and imposed compulsory testing on all cattle to be moved. No such restrictions have been imposed in Britain.
Some 138,000 deer in Michigan have been tested since 1998 - with only 28 testing positive by last year. In the past five years, one million cattle have been tested, with no positives last year.
Between 1998 and 2003, there were 26 positive beef herds and seven positive dairy herds.
All cattle movements need a permit and every cow must have electronic ID. Pre-movement testing is compulsory in all restricted areas, with a fine of $50,000 imposed for moving cattle from closed farms.
Since 1995, the TB control strategy has cost the state and federal government $50 million each.
Mr Paterson says it appears to be money well spent, with just one outbreak in cattle in the past two years. He says the disease is appearing less frequently in deer, too.
Mr Paterson said: "I was overwhelmingly impressed by the absolute determination of the authorities to eradicate TB before it took hold, especially in comparison to the pitiful efforts of their UK colleagues."
A spokesman for the Badger Trust said: "There is no comparison between deer, which roam widely, and badgers that stay within a restricted and highly specific territory."