Cattle farmers from across the country have told us of problems relating to Tb testing and its results, following Defra's tightening up on 'overdue' tests but more worryingly, on removal and identification of reactor cattle.
We have no problems at all with the concept of "'test by the due date' or a movement restriction will be imposed" - provided the tools are there to actually do the job. But several farmers have had herds put under restriction, with no date for their test because a) Their vet is so busy he's unable to give a date, b) Routine tets are taking second place to the increasing number of 60 day re tests and c) Tuberculin is in short supply, and veterinary practitioners are advised to use it 'judiciciously'.
More worryingly are tales of confusion over post mortem results when Reactor animals are slaughtered, this one particularly from Devon. On two days per week, all Devon's reactors are consigned to one abattoir, which takes up to 150 animals per day. But the post mortems are carried out (we are told) at the VI centre, so bags of cattle lungs and lymph glands etc. have to be transported. One hundred and fifty at a time - and uniquely identified - or not in some cases.
Defra to farmer (Wednesday) "We've postmortemed your cow and we're sorry to have to tell you, she had open lung lesions".
Defra to farmer (Thursday) "Sorry Mr. Farmer, we made a mistake - that open lung case was not your cow".
Farmer to Defra "Well did my cow have lesions or not"
Farmer "You were sure it had open lesions yesterday.... are you sure it was a cow - and not a b****y sheep?"
Another Devon farmer had a reactor taken in Decemberand has received no result of that postmortem. He had a clear test in March but has no idea if he can trade or not. This isn't the time between his vet sending test charts in and Defra clanking them through the system - he has been told by SVS that they are "not clear on the post mortem result of the December cow". And so don't know whether he needs one test or two for the herd restriction to be lifted.
A herd test which revealed 2 reactors at the end of February, has had no notification of identification / isolation and intended valuation / slaughter - nearly 3 weeks after the test.
Tracing animals sold prior to new herd breakdowns, is still taking 11 months.
One veterinary practise in mid Devon we are told, has 60 percent of its cattle farmers under restriction.
That's a lot of testing, a lot of tuberculin (even if used judiciously) and a lot of dead cattle, whose 'bits' then have to transported elsewhere for full postmortem, with the potential for mix ups en route.
The farmers, cattle and badgers deserve better. There's a state-of-the art abattoir moth balled on the A 30, in mid Cornwall which could be requisitioned if that grand canyon of a county border could be breached. But never overestimate the power of bureaucracy to do joined up thinking.
And of course all this could be avoided ... if vets threw away their shovels.
When you're in a hole.....