THE BLOG

Bovine TB Devastates Dorset Dairy Farm

15/04/2014 11:36 BST | Updated 14/06/2014 10:59 BST

It saddens me that my first blog post on the Huffington Post is on such a serious and devastating subject. We have much to be proud of in Britain when it comes to farming and food production. But I want to tell you about something that is destroying farms in many areas of the country.

Last week I visited Paul Gould, a dairy farmer in Dorset. He runs a small family farm with a 160-strong herd of cows. The cows provide the milk that we use on our morning bowl of cornflakes and in our cups of tea.

But nearly a quarter of the cattle on Paul's farm have been condemned to slaughter after they tested positive for bovine TB and will be taken off his farm this week.

It means his farm will be closed down for a minimum of 120 days as his herd now has to pass two consecutive bovine TB tests, 60 days apart, before it can operate normally again.

Paul thinks it will take three years for his farm to recover from the outbreak.

So how has this disease got onto his farm?

All the cows have been born and bred on the site for the past 60 years. No cattle have been brought in from other farms. After speaking to Paul, I'm certain the disease has not been brought onto the farm by another cow or farmyard animal.

But in the fields where the herd grazes are a series of badger setts.

It is a scientifically proven fact that badgers carry the disease and that it can be passed between them and cattle.

There is no doubt in Paul's mind, or mine, that the cows on his farm have been infected by bovine TB from badgers.

Paul's story is by no means an isolated case. Farmers like him are receiving similarly devastating news every day.

In some areas of England the disease is rife in the badger population with up to one in three carrying the disease. Other parts of the country are more fortunate, and the disease is not as prevalent, but over the past 30 years we have seen it gradually worsen.

Farmers like Paul are taking strong measures to stop bovine TB getting on to their farms. As well as testing their cows for the disease regularly, and having to send cattle to slaughter if they test positive for it, farmers are also doing their best to stop badgers getting on to their farms and interacting with their cattle. They are raising water troughs, securing feed stores, and installing badger proof fencing and gates to keep them out.

Without the ability to control badgers and tackle the disease in wildlife farmers feel that they continually fighting to protect their cattle from this terrible disease with their hands tied firmly behind their backs. Cattle movement controls are being strengthened, but there is little point in doing this if the disease isn't tackled in wildlife - herds will simply continue to get reinfected.

We are confident that the four-year pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire will result in a reduction in bovine TB in those areas. So the decision not to extend the pilot badger culls beyond these areas is a bitter disappoint to farmers like Paul who are living with the ever-present threat of bovine TB and the devastation it can cause to their businesses and their families. Without being able to control the wildlife which is spreading disease to their cattle they are rightly hugely frustrated and angry. It has a strangle-hold on their business.

More has to be done to stop bovine TB from destroying farming businesses and the livelihoods of the families that run them. And this must include dealing with the disease in badgers as well as in cattle.