Veterinary Surgery (Testing for Tuberculosis in Bovines) Order 2005

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:42 pm on 18 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior Conservative 2:42, 18 November 2005

My Lords, I welcome the prayer to annul the Motion put forward by my noble friend Lady Byford. I declare an interest in that I am a veterinary surgeon and I was president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons a few years ago. It is also likely that I am the only person in this House who has even performed a tuberculin test on an animal.

As a young veterinary surgeon, I, along with many of my colleagues, performed innumerable tests on dairy cattle in all weathers; a boring and at times dangerous task, especially with cattle loose in yards. We did it to rid the country of the scourge of tuberculosis and to remove the source of human infection, especially for children; although pasteurisation helped in that too. We were very nearly successful. With the exception of a small focus of infection in the south-west, the country was rid of that awful disease. Farmers welcomed it because they could become TT-tested dairy herds and thereby gain a premium on their milk, or they could become attested, which allowed them to sell their cattle in special markets, also with a premium.

In 1941, TB was found in badgers, but I shall not go into the subsequent problems associated with that.

There is an urgent need for the widespread testing of cattle now, as there was many years ago, and this order provides for lay personnel, after training, to undertake the procedure. As the noble Baroness said, there is great concern that this important diagnostic procedure is to be undertaken by lay personnel. The argument put forward is that it is not difficult to train a person to inject a small quantity of tuberculin intradermally and to measure the reaction that occurs 72 hours later.

But there is more to it than that. While conducting a herd test, a veterinary surgeon cannot but observe the general health status of the herd and often he gives advice on the situation—all at no cost to the animal owner. Many veterinary surgeons know the phenomenon of farmers saying, "By the way, while you're here, would you like to have a look at this or can I ask your advice on that?". No lay tester can respond to questions such as that. It is all done free and gratis and is regarded by a veterinary surgeon undertaking a herd tuberculin test as part of the expected procedure. Lay personnel cannot be expected to respond in such a way.

Whatever the measures that need to be taken to curb the spread of TB in cattle, the use of lay testers for what is regarded by the profession as an act of veterinary surgery is not the way ahead. Veterinary surgeons must take a pivotal role in the surveillance, diagnosis, control and eradication of bovine tuberculosis. Their advice to farmers and stock owners is important and, in the long run, their presence on farms is essential to improve the health status of the national herd.