Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 22nd October 2008.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the potential for bovine tuberculosis to transfer between (a) badgers and humans, (b) badgers and companion animals, (c) cattle and humans and (d) cattle and companion animals.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Farming and the Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is primarily a respiratory disease in most mammalian species, however, the relative importance of different routes of transmission (respiratory, oral, cutaneous) among and between species is unknown.

The principal species affected by bovine TB in Great Britain are cattle and badgers. While small numbers of companion animal species and many wild animal species have been shown to be infected with bovine TB, most are spill-over hosts. There is some indirect evidence of transmission from spillover hosts though it is uncertain how often this is occurring.

The Health Protection Agency has lead responsibility for tuberculosis in humans and works closely with DEFRA where human cases of Mycobacterium bovis ( M. bovis) infection are identified. The risk posed by bovine TB to human health from cattle, pets or wildlife is considered very low and the number of cases is not increasing. In 2006 there were 33 cases in the UK. Most cases seen today are attributable to infection picked up abroad or reactivation of infection in older people who contracted the infection before the introduction of milk pasteurisation. Despite the low risk there are robust controls in place to protect public health. These include regular testing of cattle herds and early removal of test reactors; cattle movement controls; a cattle tracing system; slaughterhouse inspections; controls on meat and milk; and occupational health controls. DEFRA works in liaison with a number of Government Departments including the Health Protection Agency, Department of Health, Food Standards Agency and Health and Safety Executive, to help protect the public from contracting infection caused by M. bovis.

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Janet Sullivan
Posted on 23 Oct 2008 10:38 am (Report this annotation)

Between badgers and humans? How on earth does he think this is going to happen. We in England are not in the habit of drinking badger milk, nor of eating badgers.

Mary Critchley
Posted on 23 Oct 2008 4:36 pm (Report this annotation)

Frustration and even anger on both sides in this debate are understandable - but more useful will be to look at the issue of bovine TB in a holistic way.

The issue of trace elements, for example, tends to be left out of the equation. In April, Welsh Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, asked officials to look into the use of micro-nutrients or trace elements in tackling the disease in badgers as well as cattle.

No, we don't eat badgers or drink their milk - but the Farmers Guardian (September 25 2008) reported that veterinary opinion now fears that human infection with M Bovis is longer a thing of the past and that "airborne transmission now presents an ongoing risk to humans where disease is prevalent in cattle and badgers."