Farmers and scientists are trying out a range of techniques, including increased biosecurity, to address bovine TB. Biosecurity is the protection of farm animals from any type of infectious agent, from parasites to bacterial infections, like TB. In practice, it is seeing what farmers can to do reduce risks and protect their stock, which includes using fences and gates to keep wildlife away from cattle to disinfectant biosecurity measures for boots and clothing entering and leaving farmyards.
Maximising biosecurity is among the principal measures taken in Wales as an alternative to the cull, which the Welsh government – like the Scottish government – does not implement (in Northern Ireland, it is being tried on infected badgers in a small pilot area). The Wales-wide biosecurity strategy includes good practice workshops and cattle purchasing advice.
Dominic Dyer, CEO of The Badger Trust, has called for the government, food retailers and the farming industry, to do more to promote biosecurity, “particularly the National Farmers’ Union (NFU)”.
Another method used in Wales to address bovine TB is increased testing on cattle. Professor Matthew Evans, a leading scientist, has criticised the UK government’s cull, which is supported by the NFU.
Evans told Countryfile Magazine: “It is clear that testing cattle frequently is the most effective way of reducing bovine TB. Farmers and policymakers should not ignore this evidence, which is based on the government’s data.”
There is generally agreement that augmenting biosecurity does no harm, but some have questioned its effectiveness and claimed that it isn’t enough.
James Small, who runs a beef herd in a part of Somerset close to the cull area, says that in an open grazing farm, “It would be impossible to completely separate wildlife from cattle short of keeping one of those species in a concrete box”.
It is almost impossible to exclude all chance of infection, and biosecurity can also be expensive. With differences of opinion across communities and across different parts of the UK, the debate as to the most effective means of tackling bovine TB continues.