THE growing impact of bovine tuberculosis was having a continuing impact on both individual farmers and rural communities as a whole in 2009.

In an unprecedented move, a group of influential farm leaders and rural experts in Devon pleaded to Secretary of State Hilary Benn to take immediate action April that year.

The group was led by the chairman of the Devon County Agricultural Association, Mr J A T Lee and had the support of the Bishop of Exeter the Rt Rev Michael Langrish and many others.

“As leaders of organisations that either represent or work with members of the farming and rural community in the county of Devon we wish to express our acute concern at the continuing and growing impact of Bovine Tuberculosis on both individual farmers and the rural community as a whole,” Mr Benn was told.

“The dramatic increase in outbreaks of bTB is causing misery and distress to thousands of farming families and bringing many to the edge of despair. This desperation is witnessed daily by the increased workload of the various Farm Care Charities that offer counselling and support to those in need.”

Operating a farming business under bTB restriction resulted in significant value, destroying direct and opportunity costs which were debilitating both small and large family farms across the county.

DEFRA figures show that between January and September 2008 there was a 27 per cent rise in the incidence of Bovine tuberculosis and that 27,000 cattle were slaughtered.

Devon showed an upward trend in 2009. There were 824 new herd incidents and 6,358 animals slaughtered between January 1 and November last year and 1,123 herds under movement restriction.

In the previous period new herd incidents totalled 782 with 5,388 animals slaughtered. Farmers in the south west say at a time when there was growing concern about food security the industry cannot afford to go on killing productive cattle at a cost of millions of pounds to the taxpayer, and posing a very real threat to the future viability of the area’s beef and dairy industry.

“We urge Mr Benn together with the TB eradication group to look urgently at methods of reducing and halting the spread of this disease in the nation’s cattle herds and wildlife before we see livestock disappearing from our countryside,” said Mr Lee

The present situation was unsustainable in terms of welfare, financial cost and the medium term impact on the countryside, rural communities and the rural economy more generally.

Others supporting the plea include Mrs Sally Wilson, of the Devon Federation of Women’s Institutes, Brian Warren, Farm Crisis Network Devon, local YFCs, farm groups, agricultural colleges, societies and numerous individuals.

Defra has agreed to a vaccine being administered in the field to infect badgers.

Neil Parish, chairman of the EU parliament agriculture committee and a southwest farmer said farmers needed a vaccine that worked in the field and not just a laboratory.

“It is one thing to have the TB vaccine in a lab but administering it successfully in the field is completely different. We should not be giving farmers false hope that the government are nearing a solution to the problem,” said Mr Parish.

“What our farmers need is an effective strategy to deal with TB in the short term otherwise many more will fall victim.”