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President's Blog - 21 August 2017

The recent news regarding Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) being discovered in a couple of badgers in Cumbria has caused a stir of media interest igniting fears that TB might spread through wildlife across the border writes NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick.

The reality is that Scotland’s greatest risk of bringing in TB remains cattle movements and not an army of infected badgers marching northwards.  

Looking at the strain of TB found in the Cumbrian badgers, it suggests infection was most likely introduced through the import of Irish cattle going on to infect neighbouring cattle and local badgers and a similar scenario could occur in Scotland.

The wildlife reservoir that can be created from the movement of infected cattle is something that must be taken seriously and it seems to me to be illogical that there is no issue in culling cattle to eradicate a disease but a major vector (badgers) is protected.

Bringing cattle into Scotland is risky.  Pre-movement testing of animals helps provide a layer of protection, but the sensitivity of TB testing means you do get false negatives, which is why we add the additional layer of protection by post-movement testing as well.  

The importance of post-movement testing is clear when we see bought-in animals failing the post-movement test.  Failures at post-movement testing do not necessarily reflect bad practice at the pre-movement testing stage, they are often just a part of the complicated picture of TB testing and control.

Of Scotland’s 11 new TB incidents identified last year, eight were directly attributed to cattle movements.  In other words, they were avoidable.  Breakdowns are painful for everyone involved and can drag in neighbours and customers.  The impact on some can be crippling.  

Analysis of Scottish breakdowns demonstrate that we don’t have a significant reservoir of disease in our wildlife population.  But that could change and the sad fact is that, if it does, it would be most likely be because of imported cattle and not wildlife.

We have a precious attribute in our cattle in Scotland with our TB-free status.  We need to protect it as it is a hard-won achievement by our industry. There can only be value in this with Brexit and trade implications and the ability to provide TB-free stock to other.  

We need to behave responsibly and think carefully about bringing in cattle from high risk areas into Scotland.

All the surveillance, biosecurity and monitoring protocols that animal health has in place are not just for our own individual businesses, but for our neighbours and for the health of the Scottish livestock industry.  

Author: Andrew McCornick

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About The Author

Andrew McCornick

Andrew, who is married with three sons and a daughter, was born and brought up on a dairy farm in Wigtown. Andrew and wife Janice farm their 230+ ha unit with 160 suckler cows and 600 breeding ewes with a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle. Andrew's sons farm a nearby tenanted unit which frequently provides replacement breeding stock for Barnbackle. For as long as Andrew can remember, he has been a member of the Union, and got more involved when the consultation for Nithsdale NVZ came out. From there he went onto become vice chairman of the Dumfries branch, and then onto his previous role of Regional Board Chairman for Dumfries and Galloway. He also sat on the LFASS committee. Andrew was elected Vice President in February 2015.

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