Press release

New measures to control Bovine TB in badgers

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Consultation on a proposal to issue licences to farmers and landowners who wish to cull and/or vaccinate badgers at their own expense.

Proposals for additional measures to help control bovine tuberculosis in cattle were published for public consultation today by Agriculture Minister Jim Paice.

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 Badger 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.

Jim 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.

Further details can be found via www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/animals/diseases/tb

Notes

  1. The consultation closes on 8 December 2010 and can be found at archive.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/tb-control-measures/
  2. Badger culling has the potential to reduce bovine TB in cattle by rapidly reducing the overall number of infected badgers, thus reducing the rate of transmission of the disease to cattle. The main body of evidence on the impact badger culling has on incidence of bovine TB in cattle is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) which took place between 1998 and 2007. The results of this major Government-funded trial demonstrate that badger culling, done on a sufficient scale, in a widespread, coordinated and efficient way, and over a sustained period of time, would reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas. No other country in the world with a similar reservoir of bovine TB in wildlife has eradicated TB from cattle without stringent wildlife control measures.
  3. The RBCT showed that incidence of TB in cattle on land immediately surrounding the culling area increased initially. Over the course of the trial, this negative effect tailed off, and the latest RBCT analysis shows that the level of TB in cattle in the surrounding area is comparable with the un-culled survey-only areas. However, measures can be put in place to mitigate the negative effects seen in the surrounding area, such as setting a required minimum area over which culling must take place and making use of barriers such as coastlines and major rivers, to limit badger movement. Also badgers in the surrounding area could be vaccinated.
  4. Badger control licences would be subject to strict criteria to ensure that measures are carried out effectively, humanely, and with high regard to animal welfare. This will include a requirement that any culling must take place over a minimum area of 150km2 so we can be confident it will have a net beneficial effect. This means that we would expect to receive licence applications from groups of farmers and landowners rather than individuals. Applicants will also need to demonstrate that they have considered taking further steps to minimise the potential detrimental effect at the edge of a culling area.
  5. Licences will only permit culling by cage-trapping and shooting, and by shooting free-running badgers, carried out by trained, competent operators with appropriate firearms licences. Defra ruled out gassing and snaring on the basis that we do not have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they are humane and effective methods of culling.
  6. The Government will fund the cost of the licensing operation and monitor the effects of the policy. We expect the farming industry to bear the direct costs of badger control.
  7. We will continue to look over the next few months at: changes to TB terminology; strengthening controls on high risk unconfirmed breakdowns; extending the use of gamma interferon testing to all confirmed breakdown herds in the two year testing areas; providing better support for TB restricted farmers by enhancing their options for selling surplus stock.
  8. In 2009/10 controlling bovine TB cost the taxpayer £63million in England. An additional £8.9million was spent on research.

Written Ministerial Statement: Bovine Tuberculosis by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food (Jim Paice)

Bovine TB is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses and families. The situation is steadily getting worse - the number of animals slaughtered each year is unacceptable and more farms are affected as the disease spreads across the country. The area of England affected by bovine TB has grown from isolated pockets in the late 1980s to cover large areas of the West and South West of England. 6.4% of herds in England were under bovine TB restriction at the end of 2009. The figure was 14.3% in the South West. In 2009, over 25,000 cattle were slaughtered due to TB in England.

The cost to Government of controlling bovine TB in England was over £63 million in 2009/10 (excluding scientific research). These costs are rising year by year and there is a strong case for early effective action to turn this around. Furthermore this has been raised as a concern by others across Europe and we are under increasing pressure from the European Commission to strengthen our controls.

Eradicating bovine TB is our long term goal, but it’s clear that the approach to date has failed. We need to take additional measures urgently to stop the disease spreading and to start to reverse the rising trend. The farming industry, veterinary profession and Government need to work in partnership to achieve this.

There is no single solution to tackling bovine TB - we need to use every tool in the toolbox. Cattle measures will remain the foundation of our bovine TB control programme but we will not succeed in eliminating the disease in cattle unless we also tackle the disease in badgers. The science is clear, there is no doubt that badgers are a reservoir of the disease and transmit bovine TB to cattle. No other country in the world with a similar reservoir in wildlife has eradicated TB from cattle without stringent wildlife control measures.

That is why the Coalition Government has committed, as part of a package of measures, to develop affordable options for a carefully-managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB in cattle. I am today launching a consultation on the Government’s proposed approach to badger control in England.

Badger culling has the potential to reduce bovine TB in cattle by rapidly reducing the overall number of infected badgers, thus reducing the rate of transmission of the disease to cattle. The main body of evidence on the impact badger culling has on incidence of bovine TB in cattle is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) which took place between 1998 and 2007. The results of this major Government-funded trial demonstrate that badger culling, done on a sufficient scale, in a widespread, coordinated and efficient way, and over a sustained period of time, would reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas. Analysis of the results covering the whole period from the beginning of culling to July 2010 show that the beneficial effects of culling persist over this time and that the initial detrimental effect seen at the edge of the culled area had disappeared by 12 - 18 months after culling stopped.

The proposal on which I am launching the consultation today is to issue licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable farmers and landowners to cull badgers, at their own expense. Under existing arrangements farmers and landowners are already able to apply for licences to vaccinate badgers. Under the Government’s new proposal, they will be able to use vaccination either on its own or in combination with culling. The Government’s proposal will empower farmers to take control of reducing the risks of transmission from the wildlife reservoir at the local level.

Licences would be subject to strict criteria to ensure that the badger control measures are carried out effectively, humanely, and with high regard to animal welfare. This will include a requirement that any culling must take place over a minimum area of 150km2 so we can be confident it will have a net beneficial effect. This means that we would expect to receive licence applications from groups of farmers and landowners rather than individuals. Applicants will also need to demonstrate that they have considered taking further steps to minimise the potential detrimental effect at the edge of a culling area. Culling licences will only permit culling by cage-trapping and shooting, and by shooting free-running badgers, carried out by trained, competent operators with the appropriate licences. We have ruled out gassing and snaring on the basis that we do not currently have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they are humane and effective methods of culling.

I have looked carefully at the potential for using badger vaccination. Based on veterinary advice and the available scientific evidence my assessment is that vaccination will not be as effective as culling in quickly lowering the weight of infection in the badger population. Vaccination does not guarantee that all badgers are fully protected from infection and it would take some time to develop immunity within a local population. In addition, the fact that the first injectable badger vaccine was only licensed in March 2010 means that there is only very limited experience of using vaccination in the field and no hard evidence on the contribution badger vaccination would make to reducing the disease in cattle. However, vaccination is still likely to reduce disease risk and have greater disease control benefits than taking no action to tackle bovine TB in badgers. In addition, when used in combination with culling, vaccination could help to mitigate the perturbation effects of culling.

The Government’s highest priority is to reduce the deficit and it is vital that any new policy is affordable. This is why we expect the farming industry to bear the direct costs of badger control. Government will fund the licensing operation and monitor the impacts of the policy.

I do not approach these issues lightly. No-one wants to kill badgers, but the scientific evidence and veterinary advice clearly suggests that this is the quickest and most effective way to bring down the weight of infection in the badger population and in turn reduce the rate of transmission of bovine TB to cattle. We also don’t want to see culling for longer than is necessary and we intend to review how the policy is working after four years.

I have met with the Badger Trust and separately with other interested stakeholders to explain the evidence and rationale behind the proposal. All have been offered the opportunity to discuss the consultation in further detail with Defra.

The consultation is available on Defra’s website (archive.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/tb-control-measures/index.htm) from today and will close on 8 December 2010. A decision on this policy will be made early in 2011, taking account of views provided during this consultation, and the available scientific and economic evidence.

The consultation document also highlights that we are planning a number of changes to existing cattle measures to ensure that that they are better targeted on the basis of disease risk. Most existing cattle measures will remain firmly in place; in some cases we will be looking to tighten controls where we know there is a higher disease risk; and in some cases we will be looking to reduce burdens on farmers but only where we are confident that this will not increase disease risk.

I am today publishing the report of a review of pre-movement testing which is available on the Defra website (archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/premovement/index.htm). This has concluded that the current policy has been successful in reducing bovine TB spread, provided a significant benefit for the taxpayer and a net benefit for the farming industry. The pre-movement testing policy will therefore remain in place, though we plan to look again at the current exemptions to see whether they are still necessary.

We will be making some minor changes to TB testing with immediate effect. These include reducing the testing of new and reformed herds, stopping the testing of young calves, rationalising post-breakdown testing in low-risk herds where bovine TB is not confirmed and rationalising the testing of herds neighbouring a confirmed TB breakdown. These changes will reduce costs to the taxpayer and the burden on farmers without increasing disease risk, and will ensure we are not gold-plating EU legal requirements.

Over the next few months I also intend to make changes to TB terminology, strengthen controls on high risk unconfirmed breakdowns, reduce the number of tracing tests and extend the use of gamma interferon testing to all confirmed breakdown herds in the two yearly testing areas. And I will ensure better support for TB restricted cattle farmers by enhancing their options for selling surplus stock. Further details of these changes will be announced in due course.

The Coalition Government is committed to dealing with this terrible disease and reducing its burden on farmers and the taxpayer as quickly as possible. A decision on our approach will be taken following the consultation on badger control being launched today. I intend to publish a comprehensive and balanced bovine TB eradication programme early in 2011.