Every year bTB costs the UK taxpayer £100 million – part of that cost includes testing animals for the disease.
However, the current test is not always accurate and often cattle are destroyed even if they are not infectious.
Vet Dick Sibley has been working on dairy farms in Devon, which have failed the current bTB tests for several years.
Recently Dick has been working in partnership with Dr Brian May and with PBD Biotech, using Actiphage – a sensitive test, which identifies the presence of the TB organism in animals and whether they can pass it onto others.
Speaking to Farming Today, Dick explained: “The current statutory tests, both the skin test and the gamma interferon, look for the cow’s response to exposure to infection. We know that some cows don’t respond, so we can’t find them with the current test.
“Actiphage looks for the actual organism in those cows and we can find them inside the cells in the cow’s blood, very sensitively. That’s not to say that those infected cows are infectious, so we use other tests to discover [this] … using a thing called PCR, which is well established and is a worldwide recognised test for TB.”
Using this strategy, as part of a private bTB eradication plan, Dick has managed to control the disease. He says the farm he has been working with is a “beacon” of how it is possible to get rid of bTB; the farmer has now been trading for the past 6 months, bTB free, for the first time in seven years.
The full BBC Radio 4 Farming Today interview, featuring Farming Minister George Eustice and vet Dick Sibley, is available to listen to on BBC iPlayer until mid-October 2019. Scroll to 3 minutes 25 seconds for the start of the segment.
A more recent write-up of the Dick Sibley and Brian May Gatacombe Farm TB project is available at Farmers Weekly (24 October 2019).