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A new industry-led cattle health programme to evaluate risk and recognise farmers who step up biosecurity to help control bovine TB (bTB), launched recently at a dairy farm in Iron Acton, near Bristol.

CHeCS bTB Herd Accreditation, a voluntary scheme which has been welcomed by Farming Minister George Eustice and Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths, improves a herd’s ‘score’ every year it is free from a bTB breakdown, awarding a status of 0-10.

The scheme is run by Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS), which was established in 1999 by the cattle industry to set standards for the control and eradication of endemic diseases. This new bTB scheme will require the herd vet and cattle owner to work together on following a number of biosecurity measures already successfully implemented in five other cattle disease control programmes.

As well as reducing risk of infection, the country-wide programme could present informed purchasing opportunities. In particular, it could benefit farmers selling cattle from regions with a high risk of the disease or who wish to minimise exposure from bought-in animals. It could also give recognition for a farmer’s efforts to complement Government and industry strategies to control infection.

Farming Minister George Eustice welcomed the scheme, saying: “Dealing with Bovine TB is costing us £100 million a year and causing devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities across the country. 33,000 cattle were slaughtered because of the disease last year alone and many farms are subject to movement restrictions which can affect their trade.

“But we know some 40 per cent of herds in the high-risk area in England have never had a breakdown, and the CHeCS scheme will help them to communicate this so they can carry out risk-based trading to support their businesses.

“The scheme will also recognise those practicing good biosecurity, which is a core part of our long-term plan to tackle bovine TB.”

The scheme complements the Government’s 25-year plan to eradicate Bovine TB in England, and will provide another tool for farmers who want to show they are following best practice. It follows the launch of the TB Hub (www.tbhub.co.uk), which offers practical advice and guidance as well as background into the disease.

The Cabinet Secretary, Mrs Griffiths, said: “The Welsh Government has been supportive of this initiative from the start. By focusing on individual herds, the scheme complements our proposed regional approach, for example those herds in the high TB areas which have not recently had TB will be able to demonstrate they are a lower risk.

“This industry-led initiative aimed at reducing TB is to be welcomed and fits in with our principles of working in partnership and promoting the benefits of disease prevention. I urge Welsh farmers to engage with the scheme and reduce the risk of disease being introduced into their herd.”

Across Great Britain, CHeCS already has over 14,000 member herds, representing around 14% of cattle holdings in some form of monitoring, control and eradication of disease.

Keith Cutler, CHeCS board member and partner in the Endell Veterinary Group, said:

“CHeCS so far has focused on control of non-statutory diseases – Johne’s Disease, IBR, BVD, Leptospirosis and Neospora. Participating health schemes have been monitoring the health status of participating herds for some years.

“With this programme, we will be working with Government to receive official TB test data with the agreement of the farmer. It’s an exciting development for CHeCS, but there is a natural fit because of the expertise CHeCS-accredited health schemes already have with monitoring biosecurity measures on their members’ farms.”

Andrew Cobner, president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, who has been technical lead on the project since the start, said: “All too often we are confronted with the view that there is little or nothing that we can do to control TB. We wouldn’t accept this attitude with any other infectious disease so it’s time farmers and vets fought back. We have a government that is willing to embrace all of the measures necessary and we have a 25 year plan in place. Part of this will involve increasing biosecurity and risk-based trading, and CHeCS is leading the way.”

The CHeCS bTb Herd Accreditation scores run from 0 (following all CHeCS measures but had a herd breakdown within the past 12 months), to 1 (following CHeCS measures and one year since the last herd breakdown) all the way though to 10 (following CHeCS measures and 10 years or more since the last herd breakdown).

Farmers wishing to know more can visit www.checs.co.uk to read the technical standard, programme handbook and Q&A. If it sounds advantageous to their farm, they should discuss joining with their vet then contact one of the participating CHeCS-accredited health schemes listed on the website. The application form includes a privacy agreement to allow the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to send test data automatically to the health scheme, and a declaration from the herd vet. After the form is sent back, a starting score will be awarded.

More information on bTB is also available at www.tbhub.co.uk.