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DNA tests agreed to beat ear tag swap in bTB fraud; ANGER AS SLAUGHTER CHECKS SHOW GLOUCESTERSHIRE SCAM.

Byline: STEVE DUB[ETH]

CATTLE which have tested positive for bovine TB are to be "DNA tagged" to stop farmers illegally swapping ear tags to keep their more productive animals.

The move follows an investigation by Gloucestershire Trading Standards of TB cattle sent to two slaughterhouses.

Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said: "The vast majority of farmers with TB in their herds are doing the right thing and it's reprehensible that anyone should be trying to get round the tough measures that are helping to control TB in cattle.

"Anyone doing this sort of thing will be caught and have the book thrown at them."

It is not known whether Wales will follow suit. With the Assembly Government elections in full swing no-one is available to comment on possible future action.

The move in England has been prompted by the evidence that some cattle farmers in the South-West and Midlands may have been keeping productive dairy cows which have tested positive for the disease by swapping their ear tags to less productive animals. These are then sent to slaughter instead of the diseased animal.

That's only one way of evading the system - and sabotaging efforts to control the disease.

In January this year Carmarthenshire farmer William Organ of Penrhiwdilfa, Gwernogle, admitted 14 offences of using grit to interfere with bTB tests between September 2007 and January 2008. He was fined a total of pounds 12,600 and ordered to pay legal costs of pounds 3,000.

Wales Chief Vet Christianne Glossop said she hoped it was an isolated incident.

"It is completely unacceptable and could jeopardise the Welsh Assembly Government's chance of eradicating bovine TB," she added. "Most farmers realise that everyone must play their part if we are to succeed in our efforts to eradicate the disease."

There have been other cases of bTB testing fraud found in Cornwall and in Cheshire.

Defra said retaining infected cattle on farms increased the risk of spreading TB to other herds and to wildlife such as badgers.

From mid-April, any cattle testing positive for TB in England will immediately be tagged and a sample of its DNA retained by Animal Health. Samples will be cross-checked at random or if the farmer is suspected of fraud.

Almost 35,000 cattle were slaughtered last year as bTB test reactors and farmers who try to avoid the consequences of a positive test have been roundly condemned.

Harvey Locke, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: "This fraudulent activity by a small number of farmers puts TB eradication strategies at risk and urgent action is required to prevent it happening in the future."

The farm unions were furious.

NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey said: "Tampering with tags brings our industry into disrepute and gives added ammunition to the Badger Trust." Farmers' Union of Wales vice president and TB spokesman Brian Walters said: "Unfortunately in any society there is a small minority who will try and break the rules, and the full weight of the law should come down on these people because they have raised the risk of other animals catching TB, and damaged the reputation of the industry.

"Because of the numbers involved the overall impact on TB controls is negligible, but farmers who are neighbours of these individuals must be extremely angry at the disease risk that this behaviour has caused for their animals."
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 5, 2011
Words:559
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