If not badgers, then how is bTB spread?

Recycling infection in the herd through inaccurate testing:
  • The Government policy depends heavily on the skin test which Government scientists estimate to be only 50-80% accurate.  So up to half of the bTB-infected cattle go undetected & therefore remain in the herd.

  • Even where accurate, the skin test only detects infection at an advanced stage once antibodies have developed. By this time, the animal may well have spread infection.

  • Cattle identified as infected are not removed immediately; farmers have up to 10 working days to remove infected cattle, during which time they can spread the disease to other cattle.

  • Inaccurate testing leaves an undetected reservoir of infection in the herd, carrying a high risk of repeat outbreaks even after a herd has had the ‘all clear’. Infection can also be spread to unborn calves.

  • Cattle farmed intensively in stressful conditions in the close confines of a barn are thought to be more susceptible to disease.

 
Manure and slurry:
  • bTB can be spread through ingestion as well as via respiration.  Infected cows shed bacteria in their dung at a very high rate, with just 1 gram containing enough bTB organisms to infect another cow (Sibley)

  • Bacteria can survive for months in slurry which may be spread on pasture and can be washed into streams.

  • There is thus a high risk of infection spreading to:

    • cattle kept in barns.

    • cattle grazing on pastures on which slurry has been spread.

    • badgers eating earthworms, slugs, snails etc, infected by slurry.

  • Infection may also spread to neighbouring farms via transmission on slurry lorries or via the watercourse.

  • Fears have also been raised that hunts traversing farms may be spreading infection to previously bTB free farms. 

 
Cattle movements – bTB on tour:
  • The huge number of cattle movements every year within and between different risk areas (eg. over 1.7 million in 2016) risks new infections.

  • Live auctions bring together hundreds of cattle from a wide regional catchment. 

  • Risk-based trading, whereby purchasing decisions are informed by cattle and environmental data, is currently voluntary and poorly supported;

  • The same unreliable skin test is used for testing the vast number of annual cattle movements.  If only 50% of infected cattle are identified by the test, this leaves huge numbers of infected cattle moving from county to county.   Hence, the disease is spreading throughout the UK.  

 
Other players:
  • Badgers are not the only wildlife to carry bTB so it is possible that there is some risk of infection from deer and other wildlife. 

Our county's badgers are counting on YOU!

Binfield Badger Group is affiliated to the Badger Trust.

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