We have already referred to the utter futility of nailing cattle firmly to the floor, while allowing an infected wildlife reservoir to flourish around them in our posting here During what became known as the the 'Downie era', the Republic of Ireland operated cattle controls along the lines of those proposed by the ISG.
At the beginning of these, reactors numbered approx 30,000. And at the end? 35,000.
But in England too, these same measures were tried, and we are grateful for the diligence of those who operated them, for their archive trawls to support their memories of the regime.
In Great Britain after 15 years of a voluntary Attested Herds Scheme, the first Compulsory Eradication Areas were announced. Between 1952 and 1960, more and more CERs were announced until the whole country was covered. By the end of 1960 eradication was deemed complete. Reactor prevalence was reduced from an original estimate of 40% in 1934 to 0.04% in 1965. It was expected that the disease would continue to occur sporadically until the end of the century as a result of animals with walled off lesions developing clinical disease in old age or as a result of stress, but in a few areas, the number of reactors exceeded expectations.
One such was in West Cornwall and a Scottish DVM was parachuted into the Duchy in the early 1970’s, to lance this “ boil” of infection which was blighting the Ministry of Agriculture’s Tb clearance maps.
Much like Professor Bourne, the late William Tait was determined to wipe out the elusive cattle reservoir of bTb. To this end he instigated synchronised Tb testing, more regular testing (see below), applied severe interpretation to all Tb tests, cohort slaughter of a group of cattle if one reactor was found and whole herd de-population. Cattle movements were limited to licensed markets only. He also attempted to ‘disinfect’ farms under his surveillance, and was probably responsible for the demolition of more 'cob' cattle byres in west Cornwall, than anything before or since. Up with steam cleaning, they could not put and collapsed around his ears.
Some of these measures are documented in reports from the CVO 1972 - 1976 as follows:
From The Report of the Chief Veterinary Office 1972
“During the year, a departmental team conducted an enquiry into the persistent bovine tuberculosis problem in the West Penwith area of Cornwall. The report on the team’s findings and recommendations was published in July.”
and from 1973
From The Report of the Chief Veterinary Office 1973
“The recommendations by the departmental team of enquiry into the persistent bovine tuberculosis problem in the West Penwith area of Cornwall were accepted and implemented whenever possible. Thus the discriminating standard of tuberculin test interpretation was continued in West Cornwall and synchronised testing at 3 months intervals was introduced in those areas having the highest reactor incidence in the previous 3 years. Intensive investigations into the incidence of tuberculosis in wildlife, and in particular the badger, continued.”
In the CVL section of the same report:
“…bovine tuberculosis remains a problem in some clearly defined areas in the South West Region. Various investigations of the commonly recognised sources of infection failed to reveal a possible origin and a wild life reservoir of infection was considered to be a possible explanation for its persistence.”
From The Report of the Chief Veterinary Office 1974
Records that the Penzance area was on 6 month testing and that there was a continuing problem in the SW region with a reactor prevalence of 0.891% compared with the rest of the country’s 0.015%
So, no dramatic fall in cattle reactors to show for the cattle carnage then?
It goes on to refer to:
“relatively high incidence in young stock that had been turned out to grass while housed calves on the same premises which had not been out remained free.
The reports for 1976 and 7 make no mention of special measures in SW Cornwall but refer increasingly to badger gassing in the SW and a reduction in reactor prevalence.
From their extensive memories of this 'test, condemn and slaughter cattle' spree of the late William Tait, officers who operated the cattle controls say he was 'very fierce' over their implementation. As we see from the CVO reports, 3 month testing in some areas, 6 monthly in others and absolute condemnation if reactors were found.
But no reduction in reactors. For that we have to look to the reports for 1976, which make no mention of any 'special cattle measures' for west Cornwall, but they do report progress and a 'reduction in cattle reactor prevalence' after gassing of badger setts was introduced.
Many of these cattle controls are proposals now resurrected by the ISG. But what has been forgotten, say current and ex DVM’s who operated them three decades ago, is that all these measures, while costing the taxpayers and the cattle industry dearly and severely denting confidence in the Ministry responsible, “had no effect whatsover on the incidence of Tb in cattle, when it came from a wildlife source”.
By 'condemning' the cattle, and ignoring these past cattle-only policy failures, history suggests that those operating the measures proposed by the ISG are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.