Today I am updating the House on the implementation of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England by 2038.
Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK, causing devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities. We are therefore continuing to take strong action to eradicate the disease.
Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s independent review of the strategy highlighted a number of potential further actions while noting the level of challenge associated with eradicating bovine TB. We continue to consider the review’s advice in detail and will publish a formal response in due course.
In the meantime, I am today announcing plans to enhance biosecurity on farms and when trading, introducing earned recognition into our testing regime and inviting further applications to our badger vaccination grant scheme. I am also reporting on the outcome of 2018 badger control operations. All of the cull areas satisfied the level of badger removal that was required by their licence conditions.
Our joint industry-Government biosecurity progress report has been published today. As part of our commitment to improving this important element of our wider TB strategy we will be investing £25,000 to improve the TB hub website which is hosted by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and which provides farmers and others with practical biosecurity advice. Furthermore, early next year we will carry out our first ever TB farm practices survey which will help us to get a better understanding of the extent to which biosecurity and other farming practices currently contribute to our efforts to control bovine TB.
Since January 2018 many herds in the edge area of England have been subject to six-monthly surveillance testing. From May 2019 we will give recognition to herds that have managed to stay clear of bovine TB restrictions in the last six years and herds that have achieved accreditation based on standards laid down by the Cattle Health Certification Standards body. We hope allowing these lower risk herds to revert to annual testing will incentivise others to take steps to reduce their TB risks.
There is broad scientific consensus that badgers are implicated in the spread of TB to cattle. This year, effective, licensed badger removal operations were completed by local farmers and landowners in 11 new areas and 19 existing areas. Alongside our robust cattle movement and testing regime, this will allow us to achieve and maintain long term reductions in the level of TB in cattle across the south-west and midlands, where the disease is widespread. The pace at which farmers and landowners came together to deliver an effective badger removal operation in Cumbria, part of the TB low-risk area, alongside enhanced cattle measures, has given us the best opportunity to stamp out the disease in this hotspot.
Badger BCG vaccination can provide a level of protection against disease and has a role to play in limiting TB spread to healthy badger populations. Therefore, a second round of applications for the “badger edge vaccination scheme” is now open, with grant funding available to private groups wishing to carry out badger vaccination in the edge area of England. Groups will receive at least 50% funding towards their eligible costs. This builds on the three initial four-year projects we have funded, which successfully carried out badger vaccination in 2018.
We remain determined to implement all available measures necessary to eradicate this devastating disease as quickly as possible.