[back] TB tests

Credibility of TB tests is called into question

Farmers Guarduian

May 11, 2007

THE owner of a £100,000 cow spared from slaughter after being cleared in a TB re-test has called for an overhaul of the TB testing regime and for the tabular valuation system to be scrapped.

Worcestershire farmer Richard Bown said he was 'hugely relieved' when Ecstasy Journalist Roxy, one of the stars of his Richaven Holstein herd, was confirmed to be free of TB last Thursday.

The result averted the nightmare scenario of Mr Bown getting just £855 in compensation for an animal one independent valuer put at £95,000, and another at £115,000.

But his experience has raised questions about the credibility of the TB testing and valuation regimes and he is furious at the actual and potential damage to his business caused by the incident.

Roxy came within 48 hours of being culled in February after she was deemed to have reacted to a pre-movement test performed by a private vet.

Two days later, Defra informed Mr Bown that the four-year-old cow was to be TB tagged the next day and slaughtered the day after that. But adamant a mistake had been made, he refused state vets permission to enter his farm.

At his own request, his whole herd was then tested by local state vets and shown to be in the clear.

He then persuaded the Department to grant a re-test of Roxy and 11 other animals tested at the same time on the grounds that the vet had not followed the correct procedures laid out by Defra in performing the tests. This took place last week and all 12 animals were negative.

"I feel very relieved and really pleased we have been found innocent. Having faced a brick wall initially I am very pleased with how the local state vets handled the re-test.

"But I am also extremely annoyed because if I had not dug my heels in I would have lost that cow four days after the [original] test. It feels bitter sweet because the system has let us down."

His herd, now re-opened, had been shut down since mid-February, preventing him from showcasing his cattle at the prestigious Simagena and UK Holstein shows, and from selling any animals, which, he said, has had 'severe' financial implica≠tions.

But that would have paled into insignificance if the animal had been culled.

Mr Bown said lessons should be learned from an incident that had threatened the future of his business.

"This shows that the whole testing system needs reviewing. These tests are putting peoples' livelihoods at risk and they have to be done properly.

"I would like the Government to develop a testing system that gives a more reliable reading rather than rely on human judgement which can be prone to error," he said.

"This has surely got to bust the table valuation system because it has shown just how ridiculous it is.

"I would have got £855 for a £100,000 animal and our business could not have stood that," he said.

Defra and the veterinary industry responded by defending the TB skin test.

A Defra spokeswoman said the test 'when carried out correctly, is considered the best test currently available'.

She said its specificity was above 99 per cent, meaning less than 1 per cent of cattle tested are falsely declared as 'positives'.

A review of TB testing procedures carried out for Defra last year by DNV Consulting found that the protocols for testing animals were frequently not being followed properly by private vets. But it said these errors were not affecting the results of the tests.

The spokeswoman said Defra was working with state and private vets to tighten up testing procedures.

Andrew Biggs, the British Cattle Veterinary Association's TB spokesman, said he was confident this was an 'isolated incident' that should not affect farmers' faith in the TB test.