New Measures to Control Bovine TB in Badgers

UK - Proposals for additional measures to help control bovine tuberculosis in cattle have been put forward for public consultation by Agriculture Minister Jim Paice.
calendar icon 15 September 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

Defra is consulting on a proposal to issue licences to farmers and landowners who wish to cull and/or vaccinate badgers at their own expense. These licences would be subject to strict licence criteria to ensure badger control is done effectively, humanely and with high regard for animal welfare.

Jim Paice said: “Bovine TB is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses and families, especially in the West and South West of England. Last year 25,000 cattle were slaughtered because of the disease, and it cost the taxpayer over £63 million in England alone.

“We can’t go on like this. It’s clear that the current approach has failed to stop the spread of this terrible disease. We need to take urgent action to halt its spread.

“No single measure will be enough to tackle the disease on its own. But the science is clear: there is no doubt that badgers are a significant reservoir for the disease and without taking action to control the disease in them, it will continue to spread. No country in the world has eradicated bovine TB without dealing with the reservoir in wildlife. That’s why I’m today launching a consultation on how we can tackle the disease in badgers.”

“A decision on our approach will be taken following the consultation. I intend to publish a comprehensive and balanced bovine TB eradication programme early in 2011.”

The consultation proposes issuing licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable farmers and landowners to cull badgers, at their own expense. Under the Government’s new proposal, they will be able to use vaccination either on its own or in combination with culling. Licences would be subject to strict criteria to ensure culling is carried out effectively, humanely and with high regard to animal welfare. They will also be asked to explain how they intend to minimise the negative effect in the surrounding area identified by the Randomised Bader Culling Trial (RBCT). Farmers and landowners are already able to apply for licences to vaccinate badgers.

Culling will only be allowed in areas where there is a high incidence of bovine TB in cattle.

Mr Paice added: “I have looked carefully at the potential for using badger vaccination. Based on veterinary advice and the available scientific evidence, the Government’s assessment is that vaccination on its own will not reduce disease as quickly as culling. However by using it in combination with culling, it is possible to maximise the effectiveness of badger control in reducing bovine TB in cattle.”

Cattle measures will remain central to the Government’s bovine TB programme though some changes are planned to ensure that they are better targeted on the basis of disease risk. Most existing cattle measures will remain firmly in place – in some cases controls will be tightened where we know there is a higher disease risk, and in some cases burdens on farmers will be reduced, but only where we are confident that this will not increase disease risk. Jim Paice confirmed that pre-movement testing will remain in place following a review, and announced some minor changes to TB testing that will take effect immediately.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: “When it came to power this coalition government said it was committed to look at ways of tackling bovine TB in the hotspot areas of England where the levels of the disease are high and persistent. Today’s announcement sets out the government’s clear commitment to tackling this difficult issue. This is a significant day for thousands of cattle farmers.

“Bovine TB is out of control. The NFU has always said that in order to effectively tackle the spread of bTB we need to address the disease in both cattle and wildlife but it’s important to be clear; this is not about eradicating badgers, this is about disease control.

“Many farmers live with the reality of bTB day in day out. The disease not only has a huge impact on farming businesses through movement restrictions and the slaughter of cattle, it also has an enormous emotional impact on farming families as they work to keep up with this terrible cycle of infection and re-infection.

“Currently we test and cull the cattle that react to the TB test, but we do nothing to control the disease in badgers, the major source of TB in the countryside, so we end up in a vicious cycle of testing and slaughtering our cattle, then more cattle become infected from the reservoir of disease in badgers, so we test and kill even more cows from the herd. This has to stop.

“I understand there will be individuals and groups who will be opposed to these proposals but I firmly believe that it is in everyone’s interest that we seek to control the spread of bTB. Our common purpose is to have healthy cattle and healthy badgers.

“With this end game in mind the NFU supports the ongoing research on vaccines to control TB in both badgers and cattle but the hard truth is we don’t yet have a vaccine ready and able to control this disease on the ground. We need to see the development of an oral bait vaccine for badgers and we support continued trials in this area. However there are significant challenges to overcome before we have a licensed vaccine available for cattle, some say it’s ten years away, and we simply cannot afford to wait for these developments while the future of the nation’s beef and dairy sectors hang in the balance.

“Today’s announcement is the first real step on the long road ahead to securing both healthy cattle and a healthy wildlife population. Our ultimate aim must be the eradication of this pernicious disease.”

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