An Alternative Way to Control Bovine TB. A guest blog by Peter Symonds B.Sc, C.Chem., M.R.S.C.

Bovine Tuberculosis has been around for a hundred years or more and you would have thought that it would have been controlled by now. The government official website gives good ideas to reduce bTB but for all that, cattle and wildlife are still being infected.

The Government’s measures to control the disease have resulted in 305 270 infected cattle being slaughtered between 2003 and 2012. These animals were carefully reared for the table but instead have been disposed of without giving any benefit. 

The taxpayer has paid £ 500 000 000 in compensation. 32 000 cattle were killed in 2013, 32 800 in 2015 and 36 200 in 2016. The Government’s policy of testing cattle and slaughtering the cattle and some badgers has not succeeded. The bTB skin test is not accurate enough and can give false results. Some cattle are declared healthy when they are infected. These can be moved to another farm and spread the disease.

Some scientists say that controlling infection in badgers and cattle should be approached in another way. The starting point is this. Badgers and cattle need to have an immune system in tip top condition. They need sufficient trace elements in their food. Their immune system can act against the infective bacterium,  Mycobacterium bovis.

The late Dr Helen Fullerton made a submission to the House of Commons Select Committee in 2004 and said that the key to stopping BTB was to make sure cattle had adequate minerals such as cobalt, copper, iodine, zinc and selenium, especially selenium, to boost their immune system. Selenium is best given as selenomethionine. This is a naturally occurring amino acid which has a selenium atom and is found in wheat.  

The Government commissioned some research in 2008 to identify differences between healthy and infected cattle. The Government Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge conducted a study of about 200 healthy cattle and 200 infected cattle. They found healthy cattle had higher amounts of selenium-containing glutathione peroxidase protein than diseased animals which had lower amounts.  

Two farmers have tried the nutrient approach. They used mineral licks containing trace elements. One farmer provided mineral licks containing selenium to his cows and molasses with selenium to the badgers from 1999 to 2007 and has largely been free of bTB. He recounted his experience in an article in Organic Farming in 2007. Another farmer provided her herd of 10 suckler cows AND the badgers with these licks from 1990 until 2005. Her herd remained healthy and her vet said her farm was the only one in a 28-mile radius NOT infected.

The best way to supply the correct amounts of trace elements is to apply soil mineral dressings.  Various companies create tailored trace element dressings for all soils, using detailed soil analysis. These granular dressings restore the soil mineral levels ensuring that pasture grasses and crops achieve the correct levels of nutrition through the soil as Nature intended. This is the most effective way to ensure ruminants acquire the salient trace elements such as selenium and cobalt which have to be ingested daily as they cannot be stored in the body.

An organic farmer in Wales and another in Wiltshire have used trace elements in recent times and report that they have been largely free of infection. 12 conventional farmers have applied soil mineral dressings and been free of bTB

The most notable farmer is Adam Henson of Countryfile fame. His Gloucestershire farm has suffered from bTB in the past. He is anxious to preserve his rare breed animals which may be needed again in the future.

Guest Blog by Peter Symonds B.Sc, C.Chem., M.R.S.C.