Bovine TB
Email Campaign

Bovine TB is a serious disease and since the 1980s with the number of new cases has doubled every nine years. In the last 10 years the disease has cost the taxpayer £500 million. And I have seen the impact on farmers I know in Worcestershire – both those who have confirmed “reactors” and those who fear the next break down in their herd. This cannot be allowed to continue.

The Government remains committed to using all available means to address this disease. The pilot badger culls have now begun in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Ministers have also agreed that an area in Dorset should be prepared as a reserve. The decision to pilot a badger cull is based on the best scientific evidence available. Evidence from Australia, the Republic of Ireland and the USA has shown that TB in cattle cannot be controlled without also controlling the disease in the surrounding wildlife population.

Research has demonstrated that cattle and badgers transmit the disease to each other and that sustained culling of badgers leads to a significant reduction of the disease in cattle. The two pilot areas where culling is initially taking place are both in TB hotspots. It will be overseen and evaluated by an independent expert panel reporting their findings to Ministers.

I strongly support this approach, although I fully acknowledge both that badgers are unlikely to be the only vector of transmission of this awful disease and that good husbandry also has its part to pay in its control. So I am pleased that ministers are clear that culling represents only part of a comprehensive package of measures that the Government is using to tackle bovine TB. In high-risk areas herds are tested annually and any cattle that test positive are removed.

Restrictions on cattle movements have been strengthened to reduce the chance of disease spreading, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) continues to look at ways to improve the testing of cattle for TB.

The Government has also funded and developed an injectable badger vaccine but this has its limitations. Badgers need to be trapped before they can be vaccinated, and the process has to be repeated annually for many years. In addition the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective in preventing TB. As a result, current vaccines will not be as effective as culling in reducing the spread of the disease.

Defra is also planning to invest a further £15.5m in vaccine development over the next four years to develop an oral vaccine for badgers, which may be cheaper and more effective than an injectable vaccine, in addition to a vaccine for cattle. As the EU Commissioner Tonio Borg has recently made clear, no country has done more in this area than the UK. However, it will be many years before these methods are available and unfortunately, the vaccination of our national herd is prohibited by EU legislation. Our cattle industry cannot wait that long. It is therefore vital that the Government uses every tool at its disposal to check the progress of this devastating disease.

A NFU press release (13th March 2013) made the impact of this awful disease on farmers very clear:

“More than 38,000 cows have been compulsorily slaughtered because of TB in Great Britain in 2012 – and 28,284 in England alone. These startling new figures released by Defra today show almost a 10 per cent increase in cattle slaughtered because of TB in Great Britain compared to 2011.

“With 2012 also recording the highest number of cattle slaughtered in England due to TB in a decade, they show more and more farmers are battling TB on their farms. The results also bring the total number of cows slaughtered because of TB in Great Britain since 2010 to 105,078 – and 79,365 in England alone since 2010.

“Today’s new figures come despite increased cattle controls, additional pre-movement testing and stricter on-farm biosecurity measures which were introduced in July last year. More new tough on-farm rules were also introduced in January 2013 as part of the Government’s TB eradication plan which aims to tackle all aspects of TB infection in the countryside.

“NFU President Peter Kendall said that today’s figures hammer home the fact that TB is out of control and that cattle measures alone will not help to combat the disease. “TB is one of the largest threats facing our beef and dairy farmers,” he said. “In 1998 we had 6,000 cattle with TB in the whole of Great Britain. From today we see that by the end of 2012 this figure has jumped to 38,010 - 28,284 in England alone. This means we have seen almost ten per cent more cattle culled in Great Britain, and a seven per cent increase in England, because of TB since 2011. And it is not just in endemic areas, TB is creeping into new areas like the North and East Midlands, Cheshire and the South East. This has to stop.

“Today, I repeat our commitment to the Government’s TB eradication plan which involves tighter cattle controls and increased on-farm biosecurity and we remain convinced that, as today’s figures clearly demonstrate, cattle controls alone are not enough to tackle this disease while we have a reservoir of TB in our wildlife. Badger controls play a fundamental part in ridding our countryside of TB once and for all.”

I fully agree with both the government’s actions and the NFU’s views.

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