Bovine TB strategy for England launched

5 July 2013 | Badgergate

The Government’s draft bovine TB strategy for England was launched on 4th July, together with a public consultation that will run until 26 September 2013. The same day also saw the release of another important document: a summary of the natural science evidence base relevant to bTB control in Britain prepared under a project of the Oxford Martin School, Oxford University. The summary forms part of the annexes to Defra’s draft bovine TB strategy and will be covered by Badgergate in a separate news item.

Defra’s plan for controlling bovine TB divides England into High and Low bTB-Risk areas with an ‘Edge Area’ between the two and proposes a suite of bTB control strategies tailored to the level of risk to cattle in each of the three areas. The entire South West of England falls within the High Risk Area, while the bulk of the North, North East and South East are classified as Low Risk, apart from a small pocket in East Sussex.

Proposed strategies in the South West and East Sussex (i.e. High Risk Area) range from badger culling to improved cattle surveillance, stricter management of TB-affected cattle herds and use of oral badger vaccine and cattle vaccine against TB when these become available. The focus in the Low Risk Area is strengthened cattle surveillance and tighter controls on TB-affected herds. Another important element of the new bovine TB strategy is working with the farming industry to make TB risk information available to potential cattle buyers such as the movement and TB-testing history of sale animals.

Badger vaccination using injectable vaccine does not feature prominently in Defra’s new ‘toolkit’, although the strategy includes ‘encouragement for local badger vaccination’ i.e. limited Government financial assistance to encourage farmers to vaccinate badgers on their land in the Edge Area. Whackier proposals that have already caused much merriment on social media include the development of badger contraception.

More alarmingly, Defra is also considering further research into new methods of gassing as a “sett-based means of humane culling.”  However, there is no explicit mention in the draft strategy of the need for 25 years of hard culling to reduce TB incidence in cattle to 2% per year as Mr Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, is reported to have recently said in a Sunday Times interview. Furthermore, Defra’s timeline for implementing the strategy suggests that oral badger bTB vaccination could be deployed as early as 2019, i.e. in six years time.

According to the Guardian, Peter Kendall, President of the NFU, welcomed the Government’s new bovine TB strategy, but concerns are already being expressed in some quarters, particularly about the greater cost-sharing proposed under the new strategy. Currently, nearly two-thirds of bTB control costs are borne by the Government, i.e. the taxpayer, and the rest by farmers. However, farmers, especially smaller ones, are unlikely to be thrilled at the prospect of having to shoulder additional bTB control costs. Indeed, this is what Phil Latham, a dairy farmer from Cheshire, had to say about it as reported by Farmers’ Weekly:

“I welcome the opening statement about putting TB in its rightful place as our number one animal health problem – but I am fairly dismayed by the way the document is framed. It clearly states that government is responsible for policy – yet that policy has failed to deliver for 20 years or more.

Now the cost of policy failure is to be passed back to farmers due to government budgetary pressure. This is simply a disgrace and while I understand that government has financial pressures, it piloted this course and now it wants to share the responsibility for the consequent crash.”

Mr Latham is also quoted in the same news report as being “dismayed beyond belief that badger control is not a preferred option in the edge area.”

The BBC also sounded a note of caution stating that “A key hurdle in the coming months is the reaction of farmers, who will inevitably bear some of the costs of the new strategy.”

Meanwhile, conservation groups such as the The Wildlife Trusts have expressed their deep disappointment that the Government’s new bovine TB strategy continues to emphasise badger culling, while failing to recognise the significant progress made to date by numerous charities that have been working in partnership with farmers to vaccinate badgers on their land.

Badgergate encourages as many people as possible to respond to Defra’s public consultation on the Government’s draft bovine TB strategy, which is open to all and runs until 26th September 2013. This allows everyone enough time to also find out more about the issues involved. Please write to us if you require any additional information to help you complete Defra’s online survey.