FARMERS are struggling to cope with the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) across Oxfordshire, and are warning that prices of milk and beef could go up.
In March, 63 herds in the county were affected by TB, and 73 cows were slaughtered.
Last year 565 herds were affected, with 640 cows slaughtered.
These are the highest figures the county has seen since 2008, and are more than Berkshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire combined.
Jeremy Brown, who owns a beef farm in Somerton, near Bicester, has had to kill 23 cows since November because of the disease.
He said: “I’m sure this will have an impact if it hasn’t already, because as there are fewer cows the cost of produce will go up a lot.”
The 55-year-old said he was considering giving up his life-long job because of the crisis, adding: “It’s hopeless. Why should you go and buy a bull when it then goes down with TB?
“I don’t know how long I’m going to do this. It’s not worth the grief.”
Jeremy Brown at Dovecote Farm in Somerton, Bicester
Mr Brown’s neighbour, dairy farmer Ian Corner, lost two cows in February to TB – despite the fact that his cattle do not come into contact with any other cows.
He blamed local wildlife for infecting the herd, and said: “It’s a death sentence.
“We’re up against it all the time – it’s just a case of when you’ll be affected, not if.”
Calls have been made to bring in more badger culling to help prevent the spread of TB but they have been met with criticism.
NFU South East spokeswoman Isobel Bretherton said: “It’s absolutely vital that these are completed and are successful so that we have got a body of evidence that tells us we can reduce this.”
Professor Tim Coulson, from Oxford University, was a member of the Independent Expert Panel that assessed the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year.
He said that culling would not help farmers, adding: “For badger culling to have an impact on bovine TB at least 70 per cent of badgers need to be culled.”
John Levitt, a Defra spokesman, said: “Last year, we started rolling out a package of new measures in Oxfordshire to stop the disease spreading, including annual testing for cattle herds and free advice workshops for farmers.”
What is bovine tuberculosis
- THE bacterial disease can affect practically all mammals, including humans, and can kill.
- It is contagious and can be caught by inhaling infected droplets coughed up by infected animals.
- Because the course of disease is slow – it can take years to kill a cow – an animal can spread the disease before it is spotted.
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