Testing cattle using the existing, archaic and imperfect skin test, necessitating penning/testing on two different days each time, can be a significant health risk to those farmers and testers involved. In January of this year a dairy farmer (just 55 years old) was crushed by a bull as he tested cattle for TB on his Carmarthenshire farm. There was another similar incident in Ireland in April 2010.
Following a Freedom of Information request to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), over the last 4 years there have been seven reported incidents involving serious injury during bTB testing. However, the HSE, in its response, warns that there may be more as it relies on the mention of the term 'TB' in the report searches.
We know too that there are many more accidents and injuries, involving both farmers and testers. However, many of these do not come under the jurisdiction of the HSE as this body does not deal with the self employed. The self employed are apparently responsible for their own safety. In many areas testing is now done annually and for those with herd breakdowns it can be as frequent as every 60 days. Penning and testing cattle, particularly those not used to being handled regularly, is known to pose significant health and safety risks but these are currently ignored. The situation would not be tolerated in any other sector.
Bovine TB is not a public health risk because milk is pasteurised. A control, rather than eradication policy could be devised, based instead on cattle vaccination which would necessitate minimal handling. Testing could then be utilised for high risk herds only, eg raw milk herds.