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Bovine TB

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015

Today I am updating the House on the implementation of our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England.

The strategy is delivering results with more than half the country on track to be officially free of the disease by 2019.

Badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all successful in meeting their targets. The UK chief veterinary officer’s advice is that the results show that industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits. As part of our strategy the Government want to see badger control over a wider number of areas next year. This is in line with the UK chief veterinary officer’s advice on what is needed to realise disease control benefits at regional level.

Bovine TB is the greatest animal health threat to the UK. Dealing with the disease is costing the taxpayer £100 million each year. Last year alone over 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England to control the disease, causing devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities across large swathes of the country.

The Government are taking strong action to deliver a long-term plan to eradicate the disease and protect the future of the UK’s dairy and beef industries. The comprehensive strategy includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, improving biosecurity on farm and when trading, and badger control in areas where TB is rife.

The low-risk area, covering over half of England, is on track to achieve officially TB-free status by the end of 2019. This would be the first time anywhere in England has enjoyed this status.

The approach of tackling the disease in cattle and in wildlife has worked in Australia, is working in New Zealand and Ireland and is supported by the Government and DEFRA chief scientists, the UK chief vet and other leading vets.

To further improve our cattle movement controls, the Government plan to introduce statutory post-movement testing next year for cattle entering the low-risk area. This will reduce the risk of importing TB-infected animals from higher risk areas and bring this part of England in line with Scotland. In November 2015, DEFRA, in partnership with AHDB, the NFU, BCVA and Landex, launched a campaign to step up biosecurity measures in farms and in the cattle trade and help protect herds from bovine TB.

We have also overseen the successful completion of the first year of six private badger vaccination projects funded under the badger edge vaccination scheme. The ongoing worldwide shortage of BCG vaccine and the need to prioritise available stocks for humans is impacting on supply for badger vaccination projects. Following advice from Public Health England, I have taken the decision to suspend attempts to source BCG vaccine for the badger edge vaccination scheme and other private badger vaccination deployment projects in England until the supply situation is resolved. This follows the decision of the Welsh Government to do the same.

Our long-term research to develop an oral TB vaccine for badgers and an effective TB vaccine for cattle is ongoing.

The European Commission has endorsed DEFRA’s bovine TB eradication programme for ongoing financial support in 2016.

To ensure we have a successful and resilient industry, I am determined to enable all available measures necessary to eradicate this devastating disease as quickly as possible. We will continue to deliver on our 25-year strategy for a TB-free England.