The devastating problems caused by bovine TB are to be tackled by a package of measures which include controlled culling of badgers as part of a science-led and carefully managed badger control policy. The policy is expected to be piloted initially in two areas in early Autumn next year, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman confirmed today.
Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England last year alone because of bovine TB, with the cost to the taxpayer set to top £1 billion over the next ten years. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where nearly a quarter of all cattle farms were affected by the disease during 2010.
The two pilots, carried out over a period of six weeks, will be closely managed and monitored to examine how safe, effective and humane a method this is. An independent panel of experts will be asked to oversee and evaluate the pilots and report to Ministers, before a decision is made on whether to roll out the policy more widely.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:
“Bovine TB is a chronic and insidious disease which is having a devastating impact on farmers and rural communities. Unless further action is taken now it will continue to get worse.
“There is great strength of feeling on this issue and no-one wants to see badgers culled. But no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has successfully controlled the disease in cattle without tackling its presence in wildlife as well.
“We already have a robust set of cattle controls in place, and we plan to strengthen them further, but the scientific evidence shows that unless we tackle bovine TB in badgers we will never eradicate it in cattle. Ultimately we want to be able to vaccinate both cattle and badgers and plan to invest a further £20 million over the next five years on the development of usable badger and cattle vaccines. However these are still years away, and we cannot say with any certainty if, or when, they will be ready.
“We are clear these pilots must be carried out in accordance with strict licensing conditions so that they are effective, safe and humane. Natural England will carefully consider two licence applications, pre-selected by Defra, and will assess them against the criteria set out in the guidance I am publishing today.”
The package of measures already in place to control and eradicate bovine TB includes:
- Routine testing and surveillance of all cattle based on risk. We have already significantly expanded the areas on more frequent testing;
- Pre-movement testing of cattle from high risk areas;
- Movement restrictions on animals from herds that have or are suspected of having bovine TB;
- The slaughter of all animals that have tested positive for bovine TB;
- DNA tagging of cattle that have proved positive, before they are slaughtered, to prevent fraud;
- Advice and support for farmers that have had cases of bovine TB in their herds on biosecurity and reducing the risk of bovine TB; and
- Research into how bovine TB is spread, and the continuing development of oral badger and cattle vaccines.
Scientists agree that if culling is conducted in line with the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), we would expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 square kilometre area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16 per cent over nine years when compared to similar unculled areas.
Farmers will have to take reasonable measures to identify 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 ‘perturbation effect’, where disturbing the badger population is thought to cause an increase in TB in cattle in the surrounding area.
Mrs Spelman also revealed that up to £250,000 a year will be made available over the next three years to support and encourage badger vaccination. The Government has already spent £35 million on developing badger and cattle vaccines since 1994 and plan to spend another £20 million on the development of practical and usable vaccines over the next five years.
- Licences will be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Further information on the application process can be found on Natural England’s website at http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/about_us/news/2011/default.aspx
- The Government has today published a policy document, The Government’s Policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England which can be found together with Guidance to Natural England via www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb:
- The Government’s Policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England - www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2011/12/14/pb13691-bovine-tb-badger-control/
- Guidance to Natural England - www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2011/12/14/pb13692-bovine-tb-natural-england/
- Responses to the consultation on Guidance to Natural England on the Implementation and Enforcement of a Badger Control Policy, launched on 19 July 2011 - www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/07/19/bovine-tb
- Defra announced the Government’s Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England in July 2011 at www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2011/07/19/pb13601-bovine-tb-eradication-programme/
- Membership of the independent panel of experts that will evaluate the pilot culls is currently being considered and will be announced shortly
- Animal disease control is a devolved matter, and this announcement relates to bovine TB disease control in England only.
- The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) took place between 1998 and 2007, and showed that badger control done on a sufficient scale in a co-ordinated and efficient way and over a sustained period of time reduces the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas.
- At a meeting between Defra’s Chief Scientist and scientific experts, participants concluded that if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified from the RBCT, we would expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 km2 area, plus a 2km surrounding ring, by an average of 16 per cent over nine years. This is an estimate based on the RBCT and what is actually seen will be affected by things such as the size of the area, the amount of disease in cattle and badgers and how many badgers are removed. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/bovinetb-scientificexperts-110404.pdf.
- 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 in a 2km ring outside the culled area, hypothesised to be the result of increased contact with perturbed infectious badgers. In the RBCT, this effect disappeared 12-18 months after culling stopped. The benefit seen in the culled area, taken together with the initial rise in TB cases observed on unculled adjacent land (the so-called ‘perturbation effect’), resulted in a significant net reduction in the overall number of new TB cases.
- The Government remains committed to research into a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, with the goal of having these vaccines licensed, 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.
- Currently the injectable badger vaccine developed by the Government is the only vaccine available. It is costly and can only be administered by vets or trained lay vaccinators but could still have a valuable part to play as part of a package of measures to tackle TB. Defra, the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, Badger Trust and National Farmers Union are all engaged in small-scale vaccination projects. Details of the Defra funding which will be made available to support and encourage badger vaccination can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/vaccination/.
- Following the badger culling pilots, if we decide to proceed with this approach, a maximum of ten culling licences will be granted to start each year.
- Numbers of TB cases nationally can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/statistics/foodfarm/landuselivestock/cattletb/national with cases broken down by region at www.defra.gov.uk/statistics/foodfarm/landuselivestock/cattletb/regional
- In addition to cattle other animals such as pigs, sheep, goats, cats, dogs and even llamas can be infected by bovine TB - see www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/animal-keepers/other-species/