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 Last update 2019/11/19

Bovine tuberculosis eradication in Europe

Bovine tuberculosis
Eradication of bovine TB has been an important issue since the beginning of the European Economic Community (EEC), and current EU policies on the eradication of the disease are best understood after considering the progressive development of relevant Community legislation [1]. The most relevant legislation regarding eradication of bovine TB is summarized in Annex 1 of the Working Document on Eradication of Bovine TB in the EU (SANCO/10067/2013) available online at EFSA.

Council Directive 64/432/EEC of 26 June 1964, on animal health problems affecting intra-community trade in bovine animals and swine anticipated the requirements for the trade of cattle in relation with bovine TB and defined the ‘officially TB-free bovine herd’ status. This legislative was substantially amended by Council Directive 97/12/EC [2] that modified the requirement for the officially TB-free bovine herd status. Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1226/2002 of 8 July 2002 [3] is a technical amendment to Annex B that deals with the diagnosis of bovine TB and was thoroughly reviewed to incorporate new methods and to improve alignment with the Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals (OIE) [1].

Publication of the Council Directives 77/391/EEC of 17 May 1977 and 78/52/ECC of 13 December of 1977 and Council Decision 90/424/EEC of 26 June 1990 was also a boost for the control of TB in Europe. The Member States were, and still are, obliged to draft eradication programs in order to accelerate, intensify or carry through the eradication of bovine TB. Financial support to these programs from the community budget was also foreseen and the community financial participation in the eradication of animal diseases was developed [1]. Council Directive 77/391/EEC was amended and completed by Directives 78/52/EEC, 82/400 and Decision 87/58/EEC (providing additional legal framework for the eradication TB, Brucellosis and EBL in cattle).

More recently, it is necessary to remark the Council Decision 2009/470/EC of 25 May 2009 on expenditure in the veterinary field and Commission Decision 2008/341/EC of 25 April 2008 laying down Community criteria for national programs for the eradication, control and monitoring of certain animal diseases and zoonoses.

Moreover, legislation on animal products for human consumption [Regulations (EC) No 853/2004 and No 854/2004], related to official controls and the bovine TB EU reference laboratory [Regulations (EC) No 2017/625 and No 737/2008] and, finally, related to bovine animals identification and registration [Regulation (EC) No 1760/2000] completes the legal framework on bovine TB.

The current EU policy on the eradication of bovine TB is based on two principles:(1) the Member States are primarily responsible for the eradication of bovine TB and may receive community financial support for the eradication program and (2) eradication of bovine TB in the EU must be a financial target and the Member States must consider eradication as the defined aim [1]. Furthermore, to monitor disease eradication and to improve the cost-benefit ratio of the eradication programs cofounded by the EU was created the task force (TF) on the eradication of animal diseases. The bovine TB subgroup of the TF gives technical assistance to EU countries for eradication of the disease. Members are EU countries representatives with an approved program for the respective disease, other concerned EU countries, independent experts and the Commission. Meetings are held in a country with an approved eradication program and in areas with particular problems. This allows discussions with local vets and possible visits to farms, laboratories, vet services, etc. Reports including a summary and the main conclusions from each meeting are published afterwards in the web of the European Commission.

The new Animal Health Law Regulation (EU) 2016/429 covers transmittable aquatic and terrestrial animal diseases including TB (considering not only in cattle but also other reservoirs) and gives higher consideration to the links between animal and public health, environment, food safety and animal welfare, including the impact these have on the economy. The new regulation is expected to be implemented by 2021.

The scientific report of EFSA and ECDC titled "The European Union summary report on trends and sources of zoonoses, zoonotic agents and food borne outbreaks in 2017" [4] reported a valuable overview of the M. bovis infection in Europe.

Eighteen MS were OTF during 2017 (Table 1). Four MS were non-OTF with OTF regions. The OTF regions of these four MS are: in Italy: 9 regions and 13 provinces; in Portugal: all administrative regions within the superior administrative unit of the Algarve; in Spain: the Canary Islands; in the United Kingdom: Scotland and the Isle of Man. Finally, six MS were non-OTF without OTF regions: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland and Romania. Norway and Switzerland were OTF, in accordance with EU legislation. Liechtenstein has the samestatus (OTF) as Switzerland. In Iceland, which has no special agreement for animal health status with the EU, the last outbreak of bovine tuberculosis was reported in 1959.

Table 1. Status of countries on bovine tuberculosis

Table 1. Status of countries on bovine tuberculosis, EU 2017. EFSA Journal 2018.


During 2017, the overall EU proportion of cattle herds infected with, or positive for, bovine tuberculosis, considering all OTF and non-OTF regions, remained very low (0.9%). Figure 1 displays the herd prevalence (infected or positive cattle herds out of the total number of herds) at region or national levels in EU/EEA. It shows that bovine tuberculosis is reported by 16 MS and that the current situation in Europe on bovine tuberculosis infection in cattle is heterogeneous and much spatially clustered with herd prevalence ranging from absence to 13.5% within the United Kingdom in the nonOTF region England-Wales. In the EU OTF regions, there were in total 1,195,660 cattle herds during 2017. Ten MS reported 134 bovine tuberculosis-infected herds in OTF regions; nine MS reported infection with M. bovis (Belgium, five herds; France, 95 herds; Germany, 3; Hungary, 2; Italy, 2; Malta, 1; Poland, 12; Portugal, one and UK, 5), whereas Austria reported 8 herds infected with M. caprae. Bovine tuberculosis was not detected in 2017 in the non-MS Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Proportion of cattle herds infected with or positive for BT, according regional boundaries of official status (OTF or non-OTF)

Figure 1: Proportion of cattle herds infected with or positive for bovine tuberculosis, according regional boundaries of official status (OTF or non-OTF), EU/EEA. EFSA Journal 2018.



From 2010 to 2017, the annual number (prevalence) of cattle herds reported infected in the EU OTF regions decreased from 227 (0.016%) to 134 (0.011%), respectively. Concomitantly, the total number of cattle herds decreased from 1,439,899 in 2010 to 1,195,660 in 2017.

During 2017, the 10 non-OTF MS had 1,022,664 cattle herds in their non-OTF regions. Five of these MS (Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom) had their eradication programmes cofinanced by the EU. The number of positive herds reported by these MS was 5,472 in Ireland (4,047 in 2016), 312 in Italy (335 in 2016), 87 in Portugal (77 in 2016), 2,461 in Spain (3,048 during 2016) and 10,334 in the United Kingdom (9,694 in 2016). Reports concerned M. bovis except for Spain reporting M. tuberculosis complex. Of the five non-cofinanced non-OTF MS, Cyprus did not report any infected herds for the year 2017 (like during previous years). Croatia reported one M. tuberculosis complex-infected herd (2 in 2016), whereas 28 M. bovis-infected herds were reported by Bulgaria (10 in 2016), and 93 by Greece (147 in 2016). Romania reported 69 (61 in 2016) infected herds with M. bovis or M. caprae. From 2010 to 2017, the annual number (prevalence) of reported test-positive cattle herds in the EU non-OTF regions increased by 6% (76.0% for prevalence) from 17,814 (1.1%) to 18,857 (1.8%), respectively, whereas compared with 2016 the increase amounted to 8% (18.5% for prevalence). Concomitantly, from 2010 to 2017, the total number of cattle herds decreased importantly from 1,638,694 in 2010 to 1,022,664 in 2017.

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