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British Food Journal Volume 30 Issue 7 1928

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 July 1928



In an interesting article, which recently appeared in The New Statesman, relating to the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis, the writer observes that whenever the question of tubercle in milk is raised, reassuring statements are promptly forthcoming from official sources, but apparently they are not always based upon sound knowledge. For example, the Minister of Agriculture stated in the House of Commons some months ago that the working of the Tuberculosis Order of 1925 showed that only about two per cent. of the cattle in England are affected. This statement is in all probability not only wrong, but wrong to an extent that would surprise any save those who are in touch with actual conditions. Reliable statistics tend to suggest that more than 30 per cent. of the cows in the British Islands are affected by the disease, the only exceptions to this proportion being in those herds which have been submitted regularly to the tuberculin test and from which reactors have been eliminated. The whole question is so important that no apology is needed for dealing with it here and setting out facts rather than theories. In 1924 a herd of 84 cows and 2 bulls belonging to a leading agriculturist was submitted to the tuberculin test; both bulls and 54 cows reacted. A year later, when the herd consisted of 87 cows and 2 bulls, 12 cows and 1 bull were tested for the first time. The bull and 11 cows reacted; of the remaining 75 cows and 1 bull only 7 cows reacted. In 1926 the herd consisted of 108 cows and 3 bulls; 11 cows were tested for the first time and 4 reacted. Of the remainder of the herd, consisting of 97 cows and 3 bulls, there were only 5 reactors, all cows. Many of the reactors in 1924–25–26 were slaughtered and tuberculosis was found to be present in every beast examined. There are at least four methods of testing: intradermal, ophthalmic, palpebral and subcutaneous, the subcutaneous being reliable under laboratory conditions for the first time only, because the maximum period of nonreaction to this test is not yet ascertained. It is well to remember that a tuberculous cow does not necessarily give tuberculous milk; in fact, little more than one per cent. of the cows that are afflicted with the disease have affected milk, and this is usually found where there is udder trouble. The tuberculin test is optional and at present owners are left to report suspected cases in their herds to the police. It follows in a great majority of cases that the cows they report are wasters, only fit for the knacker, who will pay 10s. to 15s. a piece for them. It is likely that a high percentage of cows in herds of standing, where the tuberculin test is not given regularly, would react to it. Under the Milk and Dairies Order of 1926, which came into operation in October of that year, sanitary authorities are required to keep registers of all persons carrying on the trade of dairykeeper or cowkeeper in their district, and all farms and other premises which are used as dairies; no man may carry on the trade of dairykeeper or cowkeeper unless he and his premises are registered. County Councils and County Borough Councils may order inspections, and a cowkeeper may not permit any cow to be removed from his premises after he has received notice that the Inspector is about to make a call. Further provisions for light, air and water made under the Order have been postponed for the benefit of the trade, but they will come into working not later than 1929. The powers of the Medical Officer of Health are considerable; if he is of opinion that anybody is suffering from an infectious disease caused by the consumption of milk supplied within the district from any registered premises, he may stop that supply until he is satisfied that there is no longer any trouble. There are in the Order many other clauses of interest to the consumer and the cowkeeper is obliged to take a large number of precautionary measures which will tend to increase rather than to diminish. Unfortunately the Milk and Dairies Act of the Ministry of Health and the Tuberculosis Order of the Ministry of Agriculture are not administered with uniformity. The local authorities up and down the country appear to vary the procedure as they think best. In these days when so great an effort is being made to promote increased consumption of milk, and when the food value of the pure article is admitted on nearly every hand, herds should be inspected regularly by a qualified veterinary surgeon, once a year at least, and certain of the present methods should be very carefully revised. To show the danger of the present procedure the following authenticated instances are interesting. Not long ago the London County Council, in accordance with the Milk and Dairies Act, took samples of milk from four distributors and caused it to be examined biologically. This examination took six weeks and in every case the milk was found to be tuberculous. The Medical Officer of the County from which the milk came was notified and he caused the herds in question to be examined and samples taken once more for biological examination. Tubercle being found, the case was handed over to the police to deal with under the Tuberculosis Order, and the Veterinary Inspector under the Contagious Diseases of Animals Act repeated the examination. In one of these four cases the London County Council notified the County Medical Officer in October, 1926, and the alleged offender among the herd was discovered by a process of elimination over a long period in April, 1927! On discovery the Veterinary Inspector condemned the beast and arrangements were being made for its slaughter when the owner produced a certificate to show that this particular cow was free from tuberculosis; it had been submitted to the tuberculin test and failed to react. A further sample was taken and the cow was pronounced healthy. In none of the four cases referred to was any cow giving tuberculous milk traced. It is not difficult to understand why this should be so. In these days, when many leading dairymen record their milk, some of them sell cows as soon as they are going out of profit and buy down‐calvers in order to keep the herd in full profit It follows that by the time the milk has been submitted to two or three biological examinations and three or four months have passed, the cow that has caused trouble may be infecting another herd. When we come to remember how closely the cows stand together in most cow houses, and how quickly, in the heated atmosphere of most of them, germs would spread, particularly in the winter, it is very easy to realise that the healthy may be infected by the sick and that many a cow may be tuberculous long before the owner has any idea that there is trouble. Something should be done to shorten procedure without rendering it ineffective, and the testing should be compulsory. At present an animal reported under the Tuberculosis Order and condemned is valued by agreement between the Local Authority and the owner of the animal, and if they fail to agree by a valuer appointed by the local authority and the owner, and the market value is assumed to be the price which might reasonably have been obtained from a purchaser in the open market who had no knowledge of any trouble other than he might have been supposed to have learned from inspection. If an animal, after being slaughtered, is found to be free from tubercle, the local authority must pay the market value plus 20s. If the animal was suffering from tuberculosis that was not in an advanced stage the local authority must pay a sum equal to three‐quarters of the market value, or 45s., whichever is the greater. If the animal was suffering from advanced tuberculosis, the compensation is one‐fourth of the market value, or 45s., whichever is the greater. This system of compensation is not found satisfactory. The owner may be honestly unaware of his cow's condition, he may even be disposed to do his best in the public interest, but when a man has any doubt as to whether he will get a fair price or not for his beast, he is extremely unlikely to submit to these examinations; he would prefer, unless the symptoms are obvious, to take the chance of selling in the open market. One of the difficulties of the position is to find the most suitable method of dealing with reactors, because the tuberculin test does not tell to what extent any animal is affected. But undoubtedly the present practice would be much improved if the control of diseases in cows were looked after by a department of the Ministry of Health, with a chief veterinary officer at its head who would be directly responsible to the Minister. All orders under the Contagious Diseases of Animals Act should be administered in the same fashion in all counties, i.e., by a veterinary officer and not by the police. Under the Dairies Acts veterinary inspection of all milk‐giving cows should be obligatory and not optional, and the full market value should be paid to owners whose cows are slaughtered under the Tuberculosis Order. The excessive delay and the duplication of procedure that is now so common should be avoided in some fashion that may be found practical by those who are best qualified to handle an extremely difficult situation. It is important that we should not deal too optimistically with the question of tuberculosis in cows. There is a big movement to increase the consumption of milk, yet there is ample evidence to lead us to believe that, outside the tested herds at least, one cow in three or four is tuberculous.


(1928), "British Food Journal Volume 30 Issue 7 1928", British Food Journal, Vol. 30 No. 7, pp. 61-70.




Copyright © 1928, MCB UP Limited

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