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Bovine TB

Volume 633: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017

Today I am updating the House on the implementation of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England by 2038.

The strategy continues to deliver results. Earlier this year, England applied to the European Commission for officially TB-free (OTF) status for half the country and a recent peer-reviewed scientific study showed a significant reduction in TB breakdowns after two years of badger control in the first two cull areas.

Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat to the UK. Dealing with the disease is costing the taxpayer over £100 million each year. In 2016 alone over 29,000 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 continuing to take strong action to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries. Today I am announcing plans to enhance and strengthen our disease surveillance programme, calling for applications to our badger vaccination grant scheme and introducing enhanced compensation arrangements for compulsorily slaughtered pigs, sheep, goats, South American camelids and captive deer.

The new plans will see the introduction of six-monthly routine testing for bovine TB for most herds in the high-risk area of England. The timing and communication of this increase in testing frequency will be discussed with the farming industry and in implementing it we will learn lessons from changes in the edge area of the country, where more herds will transition to six-monthly testing from January 2018. The changes will help vets identify and tackle infection in herds more quickly, helping to stop the spread of disease to new areas.

Although it does not provide complete protection or cure infected animals—which continue to spread TB—badger vaccination has a role to play. Therefore, applications for the “badger edge vaccination scheme” are now open, with over £700,000 of 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 and the scheme aims to create a protected badger population between the high-risk and low-risk areas of England, and prevent further spread of the disease.

New compensation arrangements for pigs, sheep, goats, deer and camelids which have to be slaughtered as a result of bTB will come into force on 2 January 2018. These will bring statutory compensation for non-bovine farmed animals in line with Scotland and Wales.

There is broad scientific consensus that badgers are implicated in the spread of TB to cattle. This year, effective, licensed badger control operations were completed by local farmers and landowners in 11 new areas and eight existing areas. This shows that badger control can be delivered successfully on a much wider scale than before. 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 Government are also supporting farmers to take practical action to reduce the risk of infection on their farms, notably by awarding a contract to the Origin Group in September to deliver a new bTB advisory service. The easily accessible service offers clear, practical advice to help farmers in high-risk and edge areas to protect their herds from the disease and manage the impacts of a TB breakdown on their farm. This service is supported by the TB hub, which brings advice from farming experts, vets and government together in one place.

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 cattle measures summary of consultation responses and way forward have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.