Press release

Consultation launched on next phase of bovine TB eradication strategy

The government has launched a consultation on measures to reach bovine TB-free status in England by 2038

Herd of cows

A consultation on the next phase of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in England by 2038 was launched today (27 January) by Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Bovine tuberculosis is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. In the last year, over 27,000 cattle in England have had to be slaughtered to tackle the disease, causing significant distress to farming communities.

The eight-week consultation seeks views on a range of proposals following the Government’s response to an independent review of its 25 year bTB strategy, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray.

These include plans to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022 and would enable new licences to be cut short after two or three years based on a review of the latest scientific evidence at that time.

Under the new proposals, any new supplementary cull licences - which are granted in regions after intensive culls are complete - would be restricted to two years and would not be reissued afterwards. The Government will also be seeking to accelerate the deployment of a cattle vaccine and to support badger vaccination in areas that have completed culls as an alternative to supplementary culling.

The Government’s response to the Godfray Review outlined the need for a combined approach which includes improved cattle movement controls, improved diagnostic tests and cattle vaccination to eradicate the disease in England by 2038.

Last summer, the Government announced the plan for world-leading bovine tuberculosis (bTB) TB cattle vaccination trials in England and Wales following a major breakthrough by government scientists on a potential new TB test. These trials, which will get underway in the coming months, will enable work to accelerate towards planned deployment of a cattle vaccine by 2025.

A deployable cattle vaccine will be a powerful tool in the fight against bTB and would provide another major step forward in the government’s strategy to phase out intensive culling. A programme of detailed badger surveillance and genome sequencing is underway, meaning that it has already been made possible to move away from culling to vaccination in part of one area this year.

The Government is also calling for views on possible future measures to accelerate bTB eradication in England, such as further improvements to testing, encouraging increased uptake of farm biosecurity measures and supporting responsible cattle movements.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

Bovine TB is a slow-moving and insidious disease that causes devastation for farmers as they suffer the loss of highly prized animals and valued herds.

Our badger control policy has helped to turn the tide on this disease but no wants to continue the cull of badgers for a moment longer than necessary.

We are working to accelerate other elements of our strategy to improve diagnostics and develop a deployable cattle vaccine so that we can phase out the culling of badgers.

The government has awarded £500,000 grant funding for projects that develop new tools to diagnose bTB in cattle. The programme, run by Defra on behalf of England, Scotland and Wales, will fund innovative research projects using cutting-edge technologies such as machine learning aimed at detecting infection in cattle herds faster.

The consultation can be accessed here.

Published 27 January 2021