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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 03:10 GMT 04:10 UK
Minister plays down cattle TB fears
Cattle grazing in fields
Nearly 800 cattle have been slaughtered so far this year
The government is playing down reports that an outbreak of tuberculosis in cattle in north Wales could be worse than the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

A Welsh vet had warned of a "serious" situation developing in Denbigh.

But animal health minister Elliot Morley said the comments by North Wales Divisional Veterinary Manager David Pugh were misleading.

He added that TB in cattle was confined to a small percentage of the UK national herd.

Cattle cull

Ten beef cattle at a farm near Denbigh - an area previously clean of TB - were destroyed on Thursday and tests are under way on 50 farms in mid Wales with the results expected within four days.

Badger
Farmers blame badgers for the disease spread
Mr Pugh said the spread of the disease could be "as serious, if not more serious," than foot-and-mouth.

His assessment seemed to be backed by the government's Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, Tony Edwards, who agreed with farmers that the TB testing programmes had "slipped" because of demands on manpower during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

But Mr Morley said TB in cattle was "entirely different" from foot-and-mouth and comparisons were "unhelpful".

He said foot-and-mouth was highly contagious while TB spread slowly.

Concerns

Figures from the Welsh Assembly show that cases were confirmed in 130 herds across Wales in the first three months of this year - leading to the slaughter of around 800 cattle - compared with 150 cases for the whole of 2000.

The National Farmers Union said its members agreed with Mr Pugh's assessment.

"We have been saying exactly the same thing for several months and there is growing cause for concern, " said a spokesman.

"There is nothing to stop this spreading."

Farmers blame wildlife such as badgers and foxes for spreading the infection.

Human infection - very low
No public health risk
Different strain in cattle known as Mycobacterium bovis
Infection constantly present in cattle
Around 30 people treated each year
Symptoms similar to human form

Mid Wales is another affected area with cattle movement restrictions reintroduced on 50 farms in Powys.

The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales said he was concerned because it was the first case of TB in Denbighshire for a number of years.

"It's worrying for me because it is a new area," Mr Edwards said.

"What we need to do now is find out how it got there."

In 1997, 55 Welsh herds were hit by TB, but that rose to 150 annually by 2000, according to UK Government figures.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Wyre Davies
"It's a difficult situation for farmers and government"
NFU Wales President Peredur Hughes
"We have more outbreaks this year than for the whole of last year"
Shadow agriculture secretary Peter Ainsworth
"The government doesn't seem capable of doing more than one thing at a time in this sector"
See also:

20 Apr 02 | Wales
Fear of TB epidemic in cattle
19 Apr 02 | UK
Q&A: Tuberculosis in cattle
09 Jan 99 | UK
TB emerges as the new BSE
10 May 01 | Sci/Tech
UK 'should monitor wildlife health'
10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
MPs support badger cull
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