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Bovine TB

Volume 615: debated on Thursday 13 October 2016

4. How many (a) cattle have been slaughtered and (b) badgers have been culled as a result of efforts to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis since 2010. (906542)

Between the start of 2010 and the end of 2015, some 160,393 cattle were slaughtered and 3,961 badgers were removed under licence in England to prevent the spread of bovine TB. We will publish figures for 2016 in due course.

The loss of animal life as a result of trying to prevent this disease is absolutely horrendous. The Government are in the early years of a 25-year strategy to eliminate bovine TB. When does the Minister expect the low-risk area to be declared free of bovine TB?

We expect to have the low-risk area declared officially TB-free in the next four to five years—probably by the end of this Parliament. My hon. Friend makes a good point: this is a long haul. TB is a difficult disease to fight; it is slow-growing and insidious. That is why our strategy is very broad. The badger cull is one element, but we are doing many other things, including vaccination and putting in place cattle movement controls.

Not one single badger was culled in Wales due to the actions of the Welsh Government in supporting vaccination, but they face the same problem as authorities in England: a shortage of the vaccine. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we can maximise the use of vaccines in England and Wales?

I ensured that we continued to have vaccine available for important trial work that we are doing, specifically on developing an oral vaccine that we could deploy on badgers, which could give us an exit strategy from culls, once that was complete. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right: the World Health Organisation has asked people to prioritise use of the available vaccine on humans. It is worth noting that the dose needed for a badger is sometimes 10 times higher than that for an infant, so we have to be careful about how we use the vaccine. That is why we have suspended the use of vaccines for the time being.

Minister, will we make sure that we work with all the devolved Governments, and the Irish, and learn from their expertise, so that we can know what, apart from badgers, may be carrying the disease, so that we can continually learn from each other, and so that we can deal with the problem really effectively?

Yes. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The chief veterinary officers in all the devolved Administrations work closely with our chief veterinary officer and veterinary teams to share experience and learn lessons. We know that Northern Ireland is using a “trap, vaccinate and remove” strategy, and the strategy in Wales is slightly different from ours in England. We are pursuing a wide range of strategies and do what we can to share evidence between the Administrations.

Tragically, the social costs of bovine TB fall largely on the farming community, but the enormous financial burden is shared with the taxpayer. Given that DEFRA has stated that there is considerable uncertainty in the value-for-money figures for the new cull, how will the Minister justify them to the general public?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. She and I served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for a number of years in the previous Parliament, so she has had a good grounding for the role that she takes on. The disease is costing us £100 million a year to fight. Doing nothing is not an option; we cannot put our head in the sand. That is why we need to pursue a broad comprehensive strategy. There is no evidence that any country in the world has managed to eradicate bovine TB without also tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.