Individual animal-level reporting of cattle movements between agricultural holdings is in place in Scotland, and the resulting detailed movement data are used to inform epidemiological models and intervention. However, recent years have seen a rapid increase in the use of registered links that allow Scottish farmers to move cattle between linked holdings without reporting.
Results: By analyzing these registered trade links as a number of different networks, we find that the geographical reach of these registered links has increased over time, with many holdings linked indirectly to a large number of holdings, some potentially geographically distant. This increase was not linked to decreases in recorded movements at the holding level. When combining registered links with reported movements, we find that registered links increase the size of a possible outward chain of infection from a Scottish holding. The impact on the maximum size is considerably greater than the impact on the mean. Conclusions: We outline the magnitude and geographic extent of that increase, and show that this growth both has the potential to substantially increase the size of epidemics driven by livestock movements, and undermines the extensive, invaluable recording within the cattle tracing system in Scotland and, by extension, the rest of Great Britain.
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