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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-strategy-for-achieving-bovine-tuberculosis-free-status-for-england-2018-review-government-response/executive-summary
1) Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is one of the most pressing animal health problems in England. It results in the compulsory slaughter of over 30,000 cattle a year, combined costs to the taxpayer and industry of around £150 million a year, and has severe impacts on the health and welfare of farmers and farming communities. Left unchecked, bTB poses an increasing threat to animal health and welfare, and to public health.
2) The government’s 25-year bTB eradication strategy (‘the bTB Strategy’) published in 2014 aims to secure officially bTB free (OTF) status for England by 2038. In 2018, the Environment Secretary commissioned Professor Sir Charles Godfray and a team of experts to conduct an independent review of the strategy and provide advice on how to take it to the next phase (‘the Godfray Review’). Sir Charles submitted his report to Ministers in October 2018.
3) The government has considered the Godfray Review findings in detail, in partnership with stakeholders. The Review has provided an opportunity to regroup and refocus the shared government and industry efforts on achieving OTF status for England by 2038. There are no easy answers but we do have a range of effective tools available. The Review is clear that the current bTB situation cannot be allowed to continue and that what is required is a new drive and concentrated and concerted effort by all sectors involved.
4) This response sets out the approach planned for the next five years in pursuit of that goal.
5) The government’s top priorities for this period are:
a. Accelerating work to develop a deployable cattle bTB vaccine within the next five years.
b. Evolving the badger control policy with increased support for badger vaccination, following the wide-scale deployment of effective, industry-led intensive badger culling. Detailed analysis has shown that this intensive culling has been associated with reductions in herd bTB incidence of 66% and 37% in the first two areas over the first four years[footnote 1]. The government envisages that the current intensive culling policy would begin to be phased out in the next few years, gradually replaced by government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance. Culling would remain an option where epidemiological assessment indicates that it is needed. Changes to Defra’s guidance to Natural England (NE) on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.
c. Improving diagnostic testing to root out bTB more effectively, with deployment of more sensitive tests for surveillance supported by greater use of on-farm restriction of cattle with inconclusive test results.
6) The Godfray Review highlights the opportunities presented by leaving the European Union (EU) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This government response considers the wider context in terms of regulatory reform, structural change and farm productivity. The government’s Industrial Strategy aims to secure the UK’s position as a global leader in sustainable, affordable, safe and high-quality food and drink. We cannot ignore the significant threat that bTB poses to the health, productivity, sustainability and reputation of our national livestock sector in an increasingly global market.
7) The UK as a whole continues to experience the highest levels of bTB of any developed country in the world. To achieve OTF status by 2038 and deliver benefits for a Global Britain, we must accelerate our efforts at farm, regional and national level supported by the best available evidence and tools. Priorities include reversing the rising bTB trend in the Edge Area, continuing to bear down on bTB in the High Risk Area (HRA) banking the disease control benefits in badger cull areas and keeping bTB out of the Low Risk Area (LRA). Eradicating bTB in England will come with more costs in the short to medium term and government is committed to playing its part.
8) The government does not underestimate the challenge for the farming sector, particularly in those parts of England worst affected by bTB. That is why it is essential that government, farmers, vets, local authorities, auction markets, retailers, food manufacturers, and wildlife and conservation groups rise to this challenge together and with urgency so that the sector and the wider economy can realise the ultimate prize that OTF status for England offers. We can achieve this if all interested parties work together to eradicate bTB.
A summary of plans for the next five years
Acceleration of work to develop a deployable cattle bTB vaccine, as part of a wider programme of bTB research
A deployable cattle bTB vaccine with the objective of introduction within the next five years is a top priority. It is expected to be a game-changer in terms of providing a strong additional tool to help eradicate bTB. Other research strands include diagnostic test development, managing TB in wildlife, on-farm biosecurity, socio-economic factors and policy design and evaluation.
Evolving the strategy for preventing the spread of TB from wildlife
Following the wide-scale deployment of effective, industry-led intensive badger culling and recognising the need to bank the benefits, maintain progress on bTB eradication and shift towards non-lethal control methods. The government envisages that the current intensive culling policy would begin to be phased out in the next few years, gradually replaced by government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance. Culling would remain an option where epidemiological assessment indicates that it is needed. Changes to Defra’s guidance to NE on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.
Improving diagnostics, surveillance and epidemiology to root out bTB more effectively
Increasing the sensitivity of cattle surveillance testing, strengthening the management of infected herds and roll-out of new epidemiological tools to understand better the likely source of bTB and better target delivery of disease control policies.
Incentivising the uptake of effective biosecurity measures and managing the bTB risks posed by cattle movements to reduce the risk of spread of bTB within and between farms
Improving sources of advice, creating the right incentives, maximising the use of existing tools such as the Information bTB website (ibTB) and developing new innovations in partnership with industry. The Livestock Information Service (LIS) will be a particularly important tool for supporting responsible cattle movements.
Developing governance of bTB eradication
Establishing a new ‘Bovine TB Partnership’ between government and industry to encourage shared ownership, coordination and decision making on bTB eradication and harness the collective will to eradicate bTB. The government plans to consider an animal health levy alongside other options for funding the delivery of bTB controls.
Downs, S.H. and others (2019) Assessing effects from four years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, 2013-2017. Scientific Reports, 9, 14666. ↩