Measures to tackle the devastating effect of bovine tuberculosis in England were announced by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today.
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.
Measures to address bovine TB in cattle remain the cornerstone of efforts to control the disease right across the country, and existing measures will be strengthened.
Measures already introduced include:
- A significant expansion of the areas on more frequent (annual and two-yearly) routine TB testing;
- Some higher risk Officially TB-Free (OTF) status suspended herds are now required to have two consecutive short interval tests (rather than one as before) before they can regain OTF status;
- Extended use of gamma testing;
- Clarifying TB breakdown terminology (moving to ‘OTF status suspended’ and ‘withdrawn’, instead of ‘unconfirmed’ and ‘confirmed’) so farmers better understand the disease risk and status of their herd; and
- DNA tagging to prevent TB reactor fraud.
Planned measures include:
- Reducing compensation payments for reactor animals from herds where TB tests are significantly overdue;
- Strengthening enforcement of TB surveillance and control requirements; and
- Removing some of the exemptions to the requirement to test animals before they move out of herds under annual and two-year routine testing.
Scientists agree that if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), we would expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 km2 area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16 per cent over nine years.
The Government will not attempt to eradicate the disease nationally by culling, and there would be no culling over the whole endemic area at the same time. However, controlled culling can make an important contribution in the worst affected areas.
In the event of a decision to permit culling following the further discussion with stakeholders, any culling licences granted by Natural England would be subject to strict conditions, based on evidence from the RBCT, designed to ensure that culling results in an overall decrease in the disease in the areas where it takes place.
Applications for licences would only be considered for a cull area of at least 150 km2, and with culling to be carried out by groups of farmers over a minimum of four years.
Farmer groups would have to take reasonable measures to establish barriers and buffers, such as rivers, coastlines and motorways, or areas where there are no cattle or where vaccination of badgers occurs, at the edge of culling areas to minimise the effect of ‘perturbation’, where disturbing the badger population can cause an increase in TB in cattle in the surrounding area.
Mrs Spelman said that her announcement should send a clear message to the farming industry.
“If culling is ultimately authorised, we will look to the farmers involved to show that they take their responsibility very seriously, and that they are committed to delivering culling effectively and humanely.”
Further information and a copy of the consultation which closes on 20 September can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/07/19/bovine-tb/.
The Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2011/07/19/pb13601-bovine-tb-eradication-programme/.
TB control in England cost the taxpayer £90million in 2010/11, including research.
Animal disease control is a devolved matter, and this announcement covers controlling the disease in England.
The Government remains committed to research into a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, with the goal of having licensed vaccines for both cattle and badgers available and widely used in the field. We are investing in further research, which will also be used to press the case in Europe for changes to EU legislation to enable cattle vaccination.
Veterinary advice is that culling would be more effective than vaccination in quickly lowering the level of disease in the badger population.
The injectable vaccine, the only vaccine currently available, is around ten times more expensive than controlled shooting and difficult to administer, meaning most farmers are currently unwilling to pay for it. However, vaccination still has a valuable role to play as part of an overall package of measures, and Defra, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts are all engaged in small-scale vaccination projects.
The Randomised Badger Culling Trial took place between 1998 and 2007, and showed that badger culling done on a sufficient scale in a co-ordinated and efficient way and over a sustained period of time would reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas.
The RBCT provided evidence that culling causes changes to badger social organisation and behaviour, called perturbation. The “perturbation effect” is the rise in TB in cattle seen as a result of increased contact with perturbed infectious badgers. In the RBCT, this effect disappeared 12-18 months after culling stopped.
In addition to cattle other animals such as sheep, cats, dogs and even llamas can be infected by bovine TB: http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/tb-otherspecies.pdf.