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Bovine TB

Volume 618: debated on Friday 16 December 2016

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

The strategy continues to deliver results. Next year we will apply for officially TB free status in the low risk area of the country where there is no significant TB in wildlife. This will boost trade opportunities and mean some herds require less regular TB testing, reducing costs for farmers and taxpayers. Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat to the UK. Dealing with the disease is costing the taxpayer over £100 million each year. Last year alone over 28,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England to control the disease, causing devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities.

The Government are taking strong action to deliver a long-term plan to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our 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.

There is broad scientific consensus that badgers are implicated in the spread of TB to cattle in the high risk area of England, which also has the highest badger density in Europe and has seen a large increase in badger abundance over the last 20 years. The approach of tackling the disease simultaneously 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.

This year seven new and three existing licensed badger control operations were delivered by local farmers and landowners in parts of Somerset, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. These areas comprise 10% of the high risk area, and all achieved successful outcomes. As part of our 25 year bovine TB eradication strategy I want to see further expansion of operations in the coming years. This is in line with the UK Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice on what is needed to realise and maintain disease control benefits at regional level.

I have also today published a consultation on the next steps in areas that have completed the first four years of badger control. I am proposing to allow continued, strictly licensed, activity to stabilise the population at the reduced level. This will ensure the disease reduction benefits in cattle are prolonged for many years to come.

Following consultation earlier this year, the Government intend to make further improvements to TB testing in the high risk and edge areas of England and to introduce new arrangements for controlling the disease in non-bovines. Tough controls on cattle and non-bovine farm animals are an essential complement to controlling the disease in wildlife and our plans published today alongside our summary of consultation responses will help us to make further progress on the disease, while not over-burdening our livestock industry.

Effective biosecurity is essential to protect the gains from reinforced cattle controls and badger control so I very much welcome the progress being made in delivering a joint government- industry TB biosecurity action plan. I am pleased that last month’s launch of a new bovine TB herd accreditation programme by the Cattle Health Certification Standards body has started to attract herd owners keen to be recognised and rewarded for good biosecurity practices. We will consult next year on proposed incentives to encourage more herd owners to take up this option.

Innovations enabling our farmers to better protect their herds include access to advice on the TB hub, our interactive map of TB locations and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s list of dairy bulls with greater genetic resistance to TB, alongside farm demonstration events, accredited training for vets and new teaching and training resources for land-based colleges.

Although it does not provide complete protection or cure infected animals which continue to spread TB, badger vaccination has a role to play. We remain committed to promoting vaccination in the edge area of England albeit deployment continues to be hampered by a global shortage, meaning deliveries of the authorised vaccine are not expected to resume before 2018. We will start work next year with interested organisations on the design of a new Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) as a replacement to the former scheme which had to be cancelled because of the lack of vaccine.

In the meantime, supplies of vaccine for human immunisation will continue to be prioritised.

To ensure we have a successful and resilient industry as the UK enters a new trading relationship with the world, we are determined to implement all available measures necessary to eradicate this devastating disease as quickly as possible.

Copies of the badger control consultation and the cattle and non-bovine summary of consultation responses are available in the Libraries of the House.