As South East Farmer went to press, the MPs were due to meet the NFU’s South East region to try to persuade the union to support the campaign. Previously the NFU has said a ban on cattle movements from high to low risk areas would be an impediment to its members trade.
The campaign began following an article published in the April edition of South East Farmer in which Maarten Boers, a vet and co director of The Livestock Partnership based in Petworth, West Sussex, highlighted the risk of moving lorry loads of store cattle from high risk parts of the West Country to West Sussex, which is low risk.
After the article appeared, Mr Boers said he had “dozens” of messages of support from farmers. “We had people telephoning the veterinary practice saying ‘Good on you for speaking out,’” Mr Boers said. Only two people were critical of his stance: one was a West Country vet concerned about the impact of any ban on his clients’ business; and the other was a breeder of pedigree beef cattle who was worried that he would not be able to sell pedigree bulls into the low risk area.
“But I am not aiming at the occasional bull moved into the low risk area,” Mr Boers explained.” I am more concerned about lorry loads of store beef cattle being moved from markets in the West Country.” DNA finger printing of recent suspected cases of bovine TB in West Sussex cattle has pointed to the West Country as the source of the disease.
Once the article had been published, a conference call was arranged between Mr Boers; Nick Gibb, Tory MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton; Nick Adames, a dairy farmer and contributor to South East Farmer; and George Eustice, the agriculture minister.
As a result of that meeting, two proposals emerged. One was to test cattle before they move from the high risk areas with a gamma interferon test rather than the more widely used skin test, which is only 70% successful in detecting bovine TB in cattle. “The gamma interferon test has a high sensitivity but a low specificity,” said Mr Boers. This means it has a higher detection rate than the skin test, but it also picks up a lot of false positive animals which do not carry bovine TB.
The other proposal was for DEFRA not to pay compensation for animals originating from the high risk area which subsequently develop bovine TB.
“That is a nice cost saving exercise for DEFRA, but it is not a true deterrent,” Mr Boers said. The loss of compensation on a few cattle was not worth nearly as much to farmers as the thousands of pounds involved in the time and labour of having a test done. The gamma interferon test would deter farmers, Mr Boers said, because of the expense and the risk of having a number of false positives.
The MPs who were due to try to win the NFU’s backing for the campaign are Nicholas Soames, Tory MP for Mid Sussex; Nick Herbert, Tory MP for Arundel and South Downs; and Jeremy Quin, Tory MP for Horsham.