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Bovine TB

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 27 May 2021

I am updating the House on today’s publication of the Government’s response to a consultation and call for views on a range of proposals to help eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in England by 2038. This is a step towards some of the key priorities that this Government set out in response to Charles Godfrey’s independent review of our bTB eradication strategy in March 2020.

BTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. In the last year, over 27,000 cattle in England were compulsorily slaughtered to tackle the disease. This causes devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities and is damaging our reputation as world leaders in high standards of animal health and welfare. Tackling bTB in England is costing taxpayers over £100 million each year.

The bTB eradication strategy, published in 2014, is making progress, with sustained reductions in the number of new cases and proportion of cattle affected by the disease in the highest incidence areas. However, to achieve bTB-free status for England by 2038, we need to build on this momentum.

The consultation focused on proposals to transition away from the current badger control policy and improve diagnostic testing to root out bTB more effectively. Badger culling is one of the most contentious and divisive policies within our bTB eradication strategy and our latest consultation has continued to attract scrutiny.

We should continue to proceed with the transition to non-lethal wildlife controls as set out in the consultation and striking a timely balance for this transition will be crucial. Current policy enables four years of intensive culling in defined areas, with scope for a further five years of supplementary culling. I intend to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas post 2022 and enable any new licences issued from 2021 to be cut short if the chief veterinary officer considers this acceptable based on the evidence available at the time. Supplementary cull licences will be limited to two years and no further such licences will be issued in any areas in which supplementary culling has previously been licensed. We will develop a monitoring system to track the badger population and disease in badgers in former culling areas to monitor any trends. This data will be published, thus supporting any future decision making.

The consultation also put forward proposals for targeted changes to our cattle testing policy to ensure we root out the disease in herds with sustained problems, while further helping to protect low risk bTB areas. I am committed to introducing these policy changes as soon as is practicable. The parallel call for views included longer term options for further changes and improvements to bTB testing, supporting responsible cattle movements and rewarding low-risk cattle purchasing behaviour. It also discussed ways we can continue to adapt how we pay compensation or indeed, reward farmers for “best practice”. We are considering the evidence submitted through consultation responses to determine next steps.

I am committed to accelerating work to deliver a deployable cattle vaccine by 2025. This will be a powerful additional tool in the fight against bTB and will support the staged transition away from culling in ways which will help to protect gains made and ensure incremental progress continues to be made towards disease eradication. Field trials are expected to commence in June.

There is no single solution to the scourge of bTB and we must continue to deploy a range of policy interventions. New industry initiatives, such as the CHECS TB entry- level membership, have launched. The successor to the TB advisory service will also provide the practical help many herd owners need.

Working together, I have full confidence that we can continue to turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve our long-term objective of eradicating it in England by 2038.