Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Government accused of hiding rise in bovine TB

By Sarah Probert, Birmngham Post

Countryside campaigners have accused the Government of inefficiency and neglect for failing to highlight the growing problem of bovine TB in the West Midlands.

The Country, Land and Business Association said the failure of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to publish figures on the extent of TB in each county could be an attempt to play down the extent of the problem.

The organisation said Defra had failed to update its county figures for two years and the only indication that the disease was escalating was the number of farmers reporting the problem to the CLA.

The Government publishes monthly national figures on bovine TB as well as statistics for the West region, which takes in the West Midlands counties, Devon and Cornwall, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

No individual figures for Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire - where the disease is most prolific in the region - have been available for two years.

A spokesman for Defra denied it had been hiding the figures and insisted updated numbers on TB cases for each county would be published shortly. He said the procedures for calculating TB cases was difficult and took time to collate.

The CLA voiced its concerns as a consultation on dealing with TB closed earlier this month.

Frances Beatty, regional director of the CLA, said: "In the West Midlands the disease has become a major problem - particularly in the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire - and continues to spread unabated across our members' dairy herds.

"The acceleration in the number of cases over the last two years is borne out by the number of farmers reporting incidents and an increase in the national figures.

"But this increase is hard to corroborate since the figures for the number of incidents per county have not been released by Defra for the last two years. This at very least shows inefficiency and neglect. Or could it be an attempt to play down the figures and hence the extent of the problem?"

She added: "One of our greatest concerns is that the foot-and-mouth epidemic cost the Government £100 million, with compensation being paid for loss of four per cent of the national herd.

"Now bovine TB is substantially draining the public purse and is set to continue, if not increase. Something must be done."

A spokesman for Defra said: "I can categorically state that there is no way that we are hiding any figures. The figures for the West region are placed on the website monthly.

"They only finalise the statistics when 95 per cent of records are all complete. TB is not a straight forward disease to test for and it takes time to get a break down on figures."

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