Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 7th December 2009.

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Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Labour, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many cattle have been slaughtered having tested positive for bovine TB in each of the last five years; how many of those slaughtered did not show signs of TB at post mortem in each year; and how many of those slaughtered had cultures taken at post mortem which subsequently did not confirm the presence of TB in each year.

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

The following table shows the number of cattle slaughtered under bovine tuberculosis (TB) control measures in Great Britain over the last five years, and the number of these animals with demonstrable post-mortem evidence of infection having tested positive for bovine TB in each of the last five years.

Number of cattle slaughtered( 1) Number of "confirmed" cases Number of "unconfirmed" cases( 2)
2008(3) 39,973 13,283 26,690
2007(3) 28,200 9,145 19,055
2006(3) 22,282 7,697 14,585
2005(3) 30,093 8,715 21,378
2004(3) 19,938 6,355 13,583
(1) Includes cattle slaughtered as skin and gamma-interferon test reactors, skin test inconclusive reactors and direct contacts.

(2) Number of cattle slaughtered-number of confirmed cases

(3) 2004-08 figures are provisional, subject to change as more data become available.


Data are sourced from DEFRA's VetNet Animal Health database, downloaded in December 2009.

Following a TB breakdown we aim to carry out post-mortem inspections of all the slaughtered cattle and to take tissue samples from the reactor (or if several animals must be removed, from a representative subset of those), to attempt isolation and molecular typing of the causative organism in the laboratory. This is done to support epidemiological investigations and management of the incident, rather than to validate the ante-mortem test results.

Failure to detect lesions of TB by post-mortem examination, or to culture M. bovis in the laboratory, does not imply that a test reactor was not infected with bovine TB. Indeed, in the early stages of this disease it is not always possible to observe lesions during abattoir post-mortem examination and, due to the fastidious nature of this organism, it is very difficult to isolate it from tissue samples without visible lesions. Meaningful proportions that subsequently did not confirm disease at culture for TB test reactors cannot be provided, as substantial numbers of skin and gIFN positive animals are not subject to laboratory culture-e.g. once infection has already been identified in other cattle from the same herd.

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