Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is an infectious disease of cattle and other animals. It is the single biggest issue for farms in the West Country, and has been for the last few years. It has been in the news for the last few months as there are badger culls happening, which are aimed at reducing the incidences of bTB breakdowns.
In the UK during the first six months of this year there were over 2,500 new farms identified with bTB, and more than 17,000 cattle were slaughtered as a result of this disease. The incidences of bTB have been rising for the last 25 years and the Government is unsuccessfully trying to control the disease. Livestock farms have their cattle regularly tested for bTB. If bTB is found in cattle on a farm, there are restrictions put in place, which mean that cattle cannot be freely sold or moved off the farm. This results in cashflow problems for the farm because the farmer has more animals to feed and look after, but has lost the income.
In addition, if you have a bTB restriction in place, your cattle are tested more often, which puts additional strain on the farming business, and stress on the farmers.
For any business to thrive, there needs to be reinvestment in new technology and infrastructure. Farms are no different. If you have bTB, or if there is bTB in the area, which is a fact for most West Country farms, then you will lack confidence in the future. If this is the case, you will be nervous about investing due to the extra risk of a bTB shutdown. This restricts farm business growth and jobs in rural areas, and is causing hardship in rural communities.
I do not support one treatment of bTB over another (i.e. vaccination or culling) but I do support decisive Government action so that we can see an end to this disease. The sooner it can be eradicated, the sooner our farmers can concentrate on successfully rearing dairy and beef cattle. The Government is unlikely to accelerate a programme at this point in the political cycle, but let’s hope they have the courage to act appropriately!