Cheshire farmers in bovine TB crackdown call

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Media captionInside Out asks whether the government is failing farmers in the battle against bovine TB

Farmers are calling for tougher regulations to stop bovine TB spreading into less infected areas in the north of England.

Tightening testing and loopholes in the law while constraining illegal cattle movements were all needed, farmers told the BBC's Inside Out programme.

Cases in Cheshire almost doubled from 85 to 155 in the year to June.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency said testing was strict and enforcement taken seriously.

Phil Latham, who farms in Cheshire, has lost 89 cows to bovine TB in the past year and blames badgers for transmitting the disease.

'Inexorable slide'

He said he welcomed culling but also accused the authorities of running a "shambolic" testing system after one neighbouring farm was not tested for 20 years - in what the AHVLA claims was an isolated incident.

Mr Latham said: "The perception that TB is spread because of farmers' poor practice is extremely misguided.

"The inexorable slide and spread of TB across the country will continue unless a better, properly resourced policy is implemented."

Image caption Cheshire farmer Phil Latham said better policies are needed to stop the disease spreading

Farmers are fined for moving cattle illegally while their farms are shut down with TB, but the extent to which this happens is unknown.

One Cumbrian farmer, who asked to remain anonymous, told the programme he had seen cattle being moved from high to low risk areas for profit.

He said: "They're trying to make the cattle worth more money. They're moving them from a dirty area to a clean area."

Richard Gardner, from Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: "We're trying to find solutions to tackling bovine TB and trying to offer a solution by vaccinating badgers.

"But we could be wasting our time if there's people out there potentially moving disease around."

Neighbouring counties in the low risk area have also seen TB cases rise in the past year.

Review window

In the 12 months to June, Cumbria cases rose from four to 16; in Lancashire from six to 23; in Greater Manchester from two to seven, and Merseyside from none to three.

Official government figures for bovine TB in the northern region - which includes Staffordshire and Shropshire - were recorded as 1,115 for the same period.

In the west of England, where TB in cattle is at its highest, more than 3,200 herds were infected with the disease in June.

This has led to a pilot cull of badgers in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Trevor Wilson, a former farmer and director of cattle auctioneers North West Auctions, says not enough information is given about cows before they are bought.

He said: "They could buy an animal which they think was off a Cumbrian farm but it could have moved from anywhere in the country."

The government is looking at implementing a system to give buyers more information, but it would be voluntary and it is up to buyers to ask questions.

Mr Wilson also called for the 28-day window given to farmers to test their cattle in low risk areas once TB has been found on neighbouring farms, to be removed.

He added: "In that time they can move them, they can sell them. It seems ridiculous. All the rules around TB have to be tightened.

"To stop this disease we have played around with it for too long, it's coming up the country at a rate of knots.

"We have got to do something about it and make it mandatory."

The Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, part of the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said it will now review the 28-day window.

Inside Out will be shown on BBC One on Monday at 19:30 BST.

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