Farmers urged to test 'imports' for bovine TB

ONE of the biggest outbreaks of bovine TB in Scotland is expected to be confirmed on a farm near Stranraer within days.

First tests on a beef herd owned by John R Howie, Auchentibbert, have produced 47 positive reactors and one inconclusive result from 183 animals.

This is the tenth bovine TB incident in Scotland this year, continuing a worrying trend that has seen the number of cases increase from four confirmed in 2000 to a provisional 22 last year. That included the slaughter of 296 cattle near Dolphinton, Biggar last October.

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Cattle being brought on to Scottish farms from England - where there were 1,500 confirmed TB cases in 2002 and 1,700 last year, most concentrated in "hotspots" in the south-west - have been identified as the most frequent cause.

The Scottish Executive and NFU Scotland have urged farmers bringing cattle over the Border to have them TB-tested both before and after movement, plus a quarantine period on the farm they move to.

Ross Finnie, minister for environment and rural development, has said that imposing livestock movement restrictions between UK countries would be extremely difficult.

But he told a recent press briefing on the Executive’s animal health and welfare strategy that too many farmers had not learned the bio-security lessons taught by the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic. The Scottish livestock industry, he said, must take the possibility of infectious diseases more seriously.

A spokesman for the Executive said yesterday that the Stranraer incident on its own was unlikely to make the Minister or his department re-assess its view on livestock movement restrictions.

But he added: "We are moving towards a ‘caveat emptor’ [let the buyer beware] position, where buyers will have to pay to have cattle tested."

Reactors and dangerous contacts within the Auchentibbert herd are being slaughtered, with compensation, and post-mortem tests will be made.

Although the Executive spokesman would say only that inquiries were continuing, it is understood that an "imported" animal, or animals, is suspected. The outbreak was identified after five of 13 animals going to slaughter from the farm were found to have lesions consistent with bovine TB.

Howie, who was praised for his prompt reaction and co-operation, said in a statement released by NFU Scotland: "Obviously, this is a very difficult time. The priority now is to co-operate with the authorities and to ensure all cattle movements from the farm are traced and that the outbreak is stamped out.

"This is extremely worrying for my business, but I can’t think about that just now. I feel it is the responsible course to publish my farm details to raise awareness of this case and of the need for others farmers to be extremely vigilant. I wouldn’t wish anyone else to go through this."

Bovine TB poses no risk to the general population, but any farm staff who have been in direct contact with infected animals will be offered tests.