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 significant hardship and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities. Government and industry 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 difficulties associated with eradicating bovine TB. The review’s conclusions include improving surveillance in cattle herds, the need to continue to address the disease in badgers and for more research and development (R&D). We continue to assess the review’s findings and plan to publish a full response in due course. I am however today providing further information on reinforcing TB testing in the high-risk area, announcing plans to invite further applications to our badger vaccination grant scheme and confirming the licensing and authorisation by Natural England of three supplementary badger control areas for 2019. Further information is available on gov.uk.
In May 2018 we announced that from 2020 we would introduce six-monthly cattle surveillance testing, with less frequent testing for lower risk herds, in the high-risk area (HRA) of England to enable earlier detection and eradication of disease, and to prevent it spreading to new areas. Having considered the likely demands that roll-out across the whole of the HRA in one step would place on cattle herd owners and the veterinary businesses that carry out the vast majority of the testing we are now working on a phased introduction from 2020. We will provide further details to affected cattle keepers and veterinary businesses in due course.
Vaccination of badgers against TB using BCG can provide a level of protection and can play a role in limiting TB spread to healthy badger populations. Therefore, a third round of applications for the “Badger edge vaccination scheme” (BEVS 2) is now open, with further 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 four initial four-year projects we have funded.
Alongside this we are investing in social and economic research to understand farmer behaviours and drivers of: cattle purchase and movement; attitudes to risk-based trading; attitudes to biosecurity, wildlife control and vaccination; and analysis of pros and cons of compensation versus insurance schemes.
In May 2019 fieldwork closed on a self-completion postal survey. Over 1,250 responses were received from herd owners across England. This will provide national representative estimates of cattle farmers’ attitudes and behaviours and towards biosecurity, cattle purchasing, and what influences on-farm decision making. We expect to publish headline findings in July 2019.
In July 2019 fieldwork will commence on a telephone survey of 1,500 HRA and edge area farms which have suffered a breakdown. The survey will estimate the monetary costs involved in a bovine TB breakdown which herd owners are not compensated for, including increased staffing and housing costs, and loss of productivity. This will allow accurate analysis of the financial impact of the disease to industry and individual farms. The project will report early in 2020.
We are determined to eradicate this devastating disease as quickly as possible.