Consultation on bovine TB action launched by Defra

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has outlined proposals to tackle bovine TB (bTB).

According to Defra, bTB costs taxpayers 100m each year and is deemed a significant threat to the future of beef and dairy industries, directly affecting one in five of all herds in the worst affected parts of the country.

The proposals include introducing compulsory testing for all cattle entering low-risk areas, such as the north and east of England, to reduce the risk of new bTB cases in these regions; changes to the criteria for future badger control licences, such as reducing the minimum area for a licence an approach based on the latest scientific evidence and supported by the chief vet; and a call for views on controlling bTB in non-bovine animals such as pigs, goats and deer.

Defra is inviting views from stakeholders on the proposals. The consultation runs until 23 October 2015 and submissions can be made here.

Earlier this year, Defra published a new online tool mapping the location of bTB incidences over the last five years, allowing farmers to make informed decisions when buying livestock.

Farming minister George Eustice said: England has the highest incidence of bTB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries. This includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, vaccinating badgers in the buffer zone around high-risk areas, and culling badgers where the disease is rife.

Chief vet Nigel Gibbens added: Controlling bovine TB is vital for our beef and dairy industries. These proposals to further strengthen testing in the low-risk areas will provide additional protection to farmers in those areas, helping them to stay disease-free.

Maintaining strong cattle disease control measures, combined with culling wildlife where the disease is most prevalent, will help us to achieve further disease reduction on farms suffering from bTB in the high-risk areas.

The move was welcomed by the British Veterinary Association (BVA). John Blackwell, BVA president and cattle vet, said: BVA has always argued that to control and eradicate bovine TB we need a comprehensive suite of measures that tackles all sources of infection. In particular, we welcome any proposals to extend and strengthen the tools we use to tackle bTB, such as improved surveillance and further cattle controls to halt the spread of TB northwards and eastwards. We also support greater attention being given to how the disease is spreading into non-bovines, such as pigs, goats and deer.

On changes to the criteria for future badger control we will need to fully consider the evidence base for reducing the minimum area for a licence, given that the current criteria build on the Randomised Badger Culling Trial.

We will consult our members on all of the proposed measures and continue to work with farmers and the government to control and eradicate bTB.

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