Bovine TB: Could chipping or electronic ID be part of the solution?

The latest public declaration by a number of veterinary surgeons to the effect that badger culling is not controlling Bovine TB in the UK should give the farming industry food for thought.

The past week has also seen the publication of a report by Sir George Godfray, reviewing the UK’s 25-year bovine TB strategy. The author is a population biologist and a member of the Royal Society.

His report’s recommendations highlight the need for the farming industry to take greater responsibility for on-farm controls, biosecurity and safe trading practices to stop the disease from spreading.

Godfray also suggests that more can be done to help farmers make purchasing decisions reflecting the risks of cattle being infected.

He also points to the evidence, showing that badgers do transmit bovine TB to cattle and contribute to the persistence of the disease.

Moreover, disease reduction would benefit from greater flexibility and agility in adapting bovine TB control measures as new research findings emerge.

But it should not be overlooked that the issue of animal identification and animal traceability also go to the heart of TB control – especially given the recent case of TB fraud which made it into courts in October.

Given these latest developments, surely it’s time the livestock industry gave serious consideration to the option of prescribing electronic tags for cattle or even the feasibility of having every bovine animal electronically chipped.

All dogs in the UK must be electronically chipped, a process that is carried out by a registered veterinarian shortly after birth. This has been the law for a number of years and is now universally accepted as the status quo.

It should also be pointed out that electronic identification is now the norm within the sheep sector. So it seems obvious that a move in a similar direction for cattle could be considered.

The number of stock husbandry-related advantages that such an approach could generate would more than outweigh the assumed additional cost of such a development.

In my opinion, putting an electronic chip into a beast is the ultimate deterrent against rustling or any other practice associated with the changing of an animal’s identity. The big argument against it is the associated cost.

I would be the first person to point out that any bovine animal can easily lose a yellow tag.

A bit of head-butting in a field or competition between animals at a feed barrier can easily make this a reality.

However, given the significance of ensuring the highest levels of traceability for our beef and dairy sectors, I strongly believe that a thorough review of new animal identification options should be undertaken.