These are measures that have already been announced:
Defra will remove, from October, the ability for farmers to partially derestrict their holdings following a TB outbreak. Amazingly, at the moment, when a TB outbreak occurs on a farm, the farmer can continue to move cattle from the herd without premovement testing, if it was from a different part of the farm, from where the TB outbreak is taking place. As Defra stated “there was evidence that holdings that have been partially de-restricted have a disproportionate number of further TB breakdowns, while it is also difficult for buyers and the authorities to audit movements between different groups.”
So Defra have finally spotted a route for TB to be spread, without any involvement from badgers. Still, Defra have offered farmers a get out clause – if they have separate cattle management groups, they can register them until different holding numbers (CPH) – I am sure bTB will respect this administrative nicety and promise not to stray from one CPH to another, on the tyre of a landrover, or welly.
Secondly, Defra is going to introduce a fine (well a reduction in subsidy anyway) for farmers who do not test when they are required to. Let’s just look at that one again – currently there is no sanction for farmers who do not test their cattle for bTB. Still, if the farmer can provide a good reason why they haven’t tested, they wll be let off.
Defra is now consulting on the following:
Sole Occupancy Authorities (SOA) will no longer be exempt from testing in annual testing areas. This means at the moment, that a farmer who has registered their holdings as an SOA, does not need to test cattle for bTB before moving them around the countryside, even in high bTB risk areas. Now it may well be that movements within an SOA do not mean that cattle from one holding are liable to infect cattle from another holding (though it may) but it will certainly mean that cattle from one holding can infect previously uninfected badgers in another area. And, as we know, cattle give badgers bTB just as badgers give cattle bTB (though only 6% of cattle infections are directly caused by badgers remember.)
But hold on, another get out clause has been inserted. If all the land within the SOA is within 10 miles of the main farm, then testing is not needed – even in a high risk area. I didn’t realise bTB had some sort of in built GPS system that enables it to know how far it has travelled inside a cow, or on a tyre or welly. Good work Defra.
Defra is also proposing to require cattle sellers to provide information on testing and infection within their herds when selling their cattle. Thats right, until now, it has been entirely voluntary. And, surprise surprise, some sellers have been less than forthcoming with that information. Who would have thought it? Could there be a correlation between those selling from unreported infected herds, and the paucity of information about testing and infection history. You decide.
Finally Defra is consulting on introducing mandatory post-movement testing in England. Scotland already has it. But they are only proposing post movement testing where movements originate in high risk areas. Defra say Post movement testing will ‘strengthen our intention to secure Officially TB Free status for the Low Risk Area’. In other words Defra know perfectly well that new bTB outbreaks in low risk areas are happening because infected cattle are being moved around the country. Badgers don’t tend travel hundreds of miles.
Had a more stringent regime of testing pre- and post- movement, been in place for the last 20 years, we would not be in the position we are now. Still, it’s good to see Defra seeking to tighten up some of these loopholes, even if it is still creating new ones.
No doubt NFU will be lobbying furiously over the summer to ensure that these proposals are further watered down; while continuing to blame badgers (the victim) for the spread of this appalling disease.
Still, blame the victim seems to be the trope of choice these days, as we see the return of the “feckless poor” into political culture.