THE major source of bovine TB in cattle is still infected stock brought onto a farm, a conference was told.

The conference on controlling disease in beef and sheep heard that while wildlife, including badgers, could be a source, the introduction of infected cattle – or contact between healthy and infected cattle – was the main problem.

Gonzalo Sanchez-Cabezudo, an Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency vet, told the SRUC meeting at Junction 36 Rural Auction Centre, near Kendal, that bovine TB in England was not homogenously distributed even within so-called high risk areas where the disease was regarded as endemic.

Too often, farmers brought in cattle without knowing their history. If they were buying a used car, they would not just accept an MoT – they would want to know details of its ownership, use and any problems.

Farmers should take a similar approach to bringing in cattle.

Services such as auctioneers should know the history of the animals they sell and be able to supply this information to buyers.

Mr Sanchez-Cabezudo saw no problem with this as it already happened with English livestock auctions selling to buyers from Scotland.

There was a strong link between good biosecurity – not just for TB – and profitability, and systems should be set up with veterinary help. Part of this included preventing nose-tonose contact between a farm’s cattle and those of adjoining farms.

Part of the work controlling the spread of bovine TB from high risk areas in the south and west was to build a buffer zone, hopefully restricting spread to the north and east.

Mr Sanchez-Cabezudo believed control strategies should concentrate on a 3km radius of farms where cattle had tested positive for the disease and enhanced testing within that area. The radius should be calculated from fields grazed by the cattle rather than the farm itself.

In addition, he believed that highrisk herds and enterprises, such as dealers, should be identified with additional testing. A TEESSIDE technology centre is at the heart of a 1.1m project to create an onfarm device to detect bovine TB.

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) at Wilton aims to allow vets to get an instant diagnosis from a simple blood test.

Current methods can take up to a week and involves two veterinary visits and further laboratory analysis.

The idea is to provide a speedier, accurate and cheaper method of detection, thereby limiting the spread of the disease, which saw 22,000 cattle slaughtered between January and August last year.

The three-year project involves the CPI working with CompanDX Ltd, Public Health England, and Sapient Sensors.

Co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency, it will use CPI’s expertise to develop a bespoke printed sensor.

Using Sapient Sensors diagnostic sensor technology, it will detect bovine TB from “biological markers” in the blood sample.

It will provide a near instant analysis on farm, rather than the current timeconsuming skin test.

Today’s sensors are produced using silicon technology, but CPI will print a prototype onto plastic surfaces.

The move to plastic electronics will not only provide a rapid and accurate diagnosis, but will also be far cheaper as it is single use and disposable, with no costly repeat testing. It could also help reassure farmers about the health of their cattle.

In addition, the consortium says, reducing the potential levels of bovine tuberculosis in the environment could help to resolve TB issues in badger populations, potentially reducing the need for badger culling.

Jon Helliwell, director of printed electronics at CPI, said: “The development of a low-cost, disposable printed sensor will revolutionise current testing methods and is a huge step in dealing with the problems that the disease creates.”

In the past ten years, bovine TB has cost the UK taxpayer 500m.

  • Badgers killed on roads are giving valuable information on the animals’ role in spreading bovine TB, the SRUC conference on disease control held at Junction 36 Rural Auction Centre, near Kendal, was told.

The Cheshire-based programme has brought together the NFU, farmers, vets, AHVLA, Liverpool University vet school, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, and The Badger Trust.

The programme was outlined by Professor Malcolm Bennett of Liverpool University. He said: “The programme has been running for four months and so far we have tested 48 carcases of which seven have tested positive for bovine TB. We are hoping to test 60-70 carcases and would like about 100, but are restricted by cost.”

Prof Bennett added: “We would like to extend the work into Lancashire and Cumbria and to find more partners.

“In addition, we would like to do more work with live badgers and, if testing positive for bovine TB, cull them at the same time as infected cattle on the same farm.”

The work would help give information on the incidence and distribution of bovine TB in badgers which was of importance to farming, veterinary, and wildlife interests.