Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Learning Tb lessons to take home

Tb-hit Brits could replicate New Zealand’s herd classification system and ability to sway each other’s behaviour, a Cardiff University researcher tells Tim Fulton.

A badger cull is about to start in two parts of Britain, supported by the food and agriculture ministry, Defra, on the basis Tb hasn’t been eradicated anywhere without tackling the wildlife.

For rule-bound British farming every badger breakthrough is precious. No study of livestock Tb there is complete without reference to the primary industry ministry Defra and the welfare of Tb-vector, the badger.

Mindful of this, Gareth Enticott visited our shores and kept asking himself, how do you control movements and cut down on people buying a cow from Tb-infected areas without regulating?

One way is to try to create some kind of what sociologists would call cultural capital. Applied to animal health you make distinctions between farmers based on the C1-C10 status system.

Enticott is impressed by the way NZ’s “really straightforward” herd classification system for bovine Tb infection acts simultaneously on a farmer’s reputation and the value of their herd.

Here you have a ready-made incentive for best practice in Tb control and probably a basis for Britain to do likewise in curbing cattle infection.

The woodland creatures are ruinous for a sorry number of Welsh and English farmers – as are laws supported by animal welfare leagues that prevent them being targeted like the NZ possum.

Typifying the frustration, there’s a cattle vaccine and another test, the DIVA, which can distinguish between a vaccinated cow and one with the disease.

Neither approach is perfect but they represent progress from previous lab work, Enticott says. The quest now is having freedom to experiment. Using the vaccine in the field is against EU law.

Still, Enticott indicates vaccine rules are just part of the picture.

The British approach is much more regulatory whereas NZ allows farmers to be more directly involved in Tb management, trusting them to get the job done.

From origins in the 1950s NZ created regional and national advisory committees, which went on to become the Animal Health Board and then the TBfree committees we know today.

It’s a leap from the UK, where “politicians are really kind of nervous about giving more control, more power to the industry”.

During his recent travels around NZ he was sure to visit the West Coast, where Tb control is a similar issue to parts of Britain in being a threat to livelihoods.

His research in the past two years has teased out Coasters’ sense of resignation about Tb. Like Brits, a good number have a sense that if their area becomes infected then they may well be the next farm hit.

“Certainly in some areas they expect to go down and if they don’t ‘they’ve just been lucky’.”

Notwithstanding this, however, Enticott is full of praise for NZ’s approach.

He says he came here because the country is the world’s best example of Tb eradication.

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