Next steps to tackle bovine TB in England

Published on Tuesday, 19 July 2011 16:43
Posted by Scott Buckler

Measures to tackle the devastating effect of bovine tuberculosis in England were announced by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today (July 19th)


The Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England sets out a comprehensive and balanced package of measures to tackle TB in cattle, badgers and other animals, including the Government’s view that it is strongly minded to allow a science-led cull of badgers in the worst affected areas.

Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2010 because of bovine TB, which cost the country £90 million last year. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23 per cent of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease.

Cattle measures, including routine testing and surveillance, pre-movement testing, movement restrictions and removal and slaughter of infected animals will remain the foundation of the TB eradication programme.

The Government will work with the farming industry and the veterinary profession to continue to promote good biosecurity and provide advice and support to farmers, as well as investing £20 million over the next five years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible.

The programme also sets out the proposed way forward on controlling the disease in the badger population, including plans to license groups of farmers and landowners to carry out science-led, strictly controlled culls of badgers in the areas worst affected by TB.

Mrs Spelman said:

This terrible disease is getting worse, and we’ve got to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities. There’s also the effect on the farming economy and taxpayers. Bovine TB will cost us £1 billion over the next decade in England alone if we don’t take more action.

“First we need to stop the disease spreading even further. Then we need to bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it.

“We cannot go on like this. Many farmers are desperate and feel unable to control the disease in their herds. And we know that unless we tackle the disease in badgers we will never be able to eradicate it in cattle. We also know that there is no country in the world which has successfully controlled TB in cattle without addressing its presence in the wildlife population.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to vaccinate both cattle and badgers, and we’re investing in research – but there are serious practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which is the only available option.

“We are working hard to develop a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, but a usable and approved cattle vaccine and oral badger vaccine are much further away than we thought and we can’t say with any certainty if and when they will be ready. We simply can’t afford to keep waiting.”

Mrs Spelman added:

We already have a robust set of cattle controls in place, but we need to accept that in some parts of the country they just aren’t enough. Unless we tackle each and every transmission route, including from badgers to cattle, we are likely to see the situation deteriorate further.

“There is great strength of feeling on this issue, which is why I have carefully considered the scientific evidence and the large number of responses to the public consultation. I know that a large section of the public is opposed to culling, and that many people are particularly concerned about whether it will actually be effective in reducing TB in cattle and about whether it will be humane.

“I wish there was some other practical way of dealing with this, but we can’t escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in areas worst affected by bovine TB. With the problem of TB spreading and no usable vaccine on the horizon, I’m strongly minded to allow controlled culling, carried out by groups of farmers and landowners, as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control.”

Badger control licences would be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable groups of farmers and landowners to reduce badger populations at their own expense.

In light of concerns raised in the public consultation, a number of amendments to the proposed policy have been made. Key stakeholders will now be further consulted on the resulting draft guidance to Natural England, who are the licensing authority for culling activity.

The draft guidance to Natural England sets out strict criteria that applicants for a licence to cull badgers would have to meet to ensure that any culling is carried out safely, effectively and humanely.

Initially in the first year, the culling method would be piloted in two areas, to confirm the effectiveness and hamaneness of controlled shooting, overseen by an independent panel of scientific experts. If this is found to be effective, then and only then would this policy be rolled out more widely.


Source: DEFRA

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