Badger Controls to Expand in Bovine TB Eradication Efforts

UK - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Liz Truss, updated Parliament yesterday on the state of bovine tuberculosis eradication efforts in the UK.
calendar icon 18 December 2015
clock icon 4 minute read

She said: "The strategy is delivering results with more than half the country on track to be officially free of the disease by 2019.

"Badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all successful in meeting their targets... As part of our strategy the Government wants to see badger control over a wider number of areas next year. This is in line with the UK Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice on what is needed to realise disease control benefits at regional level."

The government's plan involves strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, improving biosecurity on farm and when trading, and badger culling in areas where TB is rife. A badger vaccination programme has had to be suspended due to a worldwide shortage of vaccines, but research into new cattle and badger TB vaccines continues.

Ms Truss said similar strategies had worked in other countries including Australia and New Zealand, and was supported by the country's chief vets.

But British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Sean Wensley said there is little evidence for an expansion of culling.

He said: “While we continue to support targeted, effective and humane badger culling as a vital element of the bTB eradication programme, we remain disappointed that Defra plans to continue using controlled shooting and roll it out to new areas, given that the first two years of culling in the pilot areas failed to demonstrate conclusively that controlled shooting could be carried out effectively or humanely based on the criteria that were set.

"Again, we urge the Government to reconsider this policy and extend badger culling using cage trapping and shooting only.

“We also raised concerns about the proposals to relax the licence conditions in relation to the duration of the culling period. It is disappointing that the revised guidance to Natural England is not clearer that a simultaneous and intensive culling operation is the primary goal and does not define this. The primary goal must be to cull as many badgers as possible in as short a time as possible, in order to minimise the possible risk of perturbation."

However, Mr Wensley welcomed strengthening of some other measures used to combat TB.

“We welcome the strengthening of some of the tools we need to eradicate bTB, including the campaign to step up biosecurity measures in farms and in the cattle trade. We also welcome the announcement of new cattle controls, such as post-movement testing, but we are disappointed to lose the BCG vaccine from the toolbox with the temporary suspension of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS).

"In light of the global BCG shortage, it is right that public health takes priority but it is regrettable that the supply chain is so vulnerable and we would want to see more security in the future.”

NFU President Meurig Raymond said in response to Ms Truss' announcement: “I would like to pay tribute to the cull companies and contractors in all three areas who worked extremely hard to ensure a difficult job was carried out as safely, effectively and humanely as possible. It is clear that lessons have been learned from the first two years of the pilot culls and these have helped ensure the success of this year’s operations.

“The desire to see culling carried out over a wider area of the country next year will be welcomed by farmers in areas where bovine TB is rife and where culling can play a vital role in disease control. We will continue to offer help, advice and support to farmers who want to apply for a cull licence in areas where the disease is endemic and that would benefit from culling.

“It is important that the whole of the 25-year TB eradication strategy is implemented in full as quickly as possible. The announcement that compulsory post movement testing for cattle moving into the low risk area from higher risk areas will be introduced next year will be welcomed by farmers in these areas who have been frustrated by the lack of progress on this issue.

“Bovine TB remains a huge problem for beef and dairy farmers across large parts of the country. It is vital that we use every option available to us so we have the best chance of controlling and eradicating this devastating disease,” Mr Raymond said.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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