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Agriculture: Cattle

Volume 697: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in light of the bovine tuberculosis and bluetongue outbreaks, there is any research data which relate to the possibility (a) that in-breeding has lowered the resistance of farm stock, particularly dairy cattle; (b) that particular breeds of either cattle or sheep have a greater resistance than others to either of these diseases; or (c) that less intensive farming, for example organic, reduces incidence. [HL499]

With regards to bovine tuberculosis, there is anecdotal evidence that some breeds of cattle, for example Zebu in Africa, are more resistant to infection by mycobacterium bovis than other breeds. Research is under way in Great Britain (funded by the Welsh Assembly Government) and the Republic of Ireland to determine whether there is any evidence of inherited traits for increased resistance or susceptibility to the disease in cattle. In addition, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is funding research into the “interplay between host and pathogen genetic factors in the increasing incidence of bovine TB”, which should provide fundamental information on host genetic factors that influence TB susceptibility in cattle.

As far as farming practices are concerned, data collected as part of the epidemiological survey overseen by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) did not indicate that organic status was associated either with an increased or decreased risk of a TB breakdown. The findings of the survey into farm-level risk factors have been published in the ISG's final report which is available on the Defra website and in the Libraries of the House.

With regard to the recent bluetongue outbreak, given the limited number of premises and animals infected, it is not possible to evaluate the factors which may influence resistance or incidence of infection at this stage. Surveillance and epidemiological investigation are ongoing.