New measures announced to tackle TB

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced further measures today (Tuesday, 30 August) to tackle bovine TB as part of its 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease. 

According to Defra, bovine TB costs taxpayers over £100m every year, with England having the highest incidence of the disease in Europe.

Last year saw 28,000 cattle slaughtered across England in an effort to control the disease, damaging the livelihood of farmers and rural communities.

The government’s strategy will see tighter cattle measures, improved biosecurity and greater badger control in areas where the disease is most prominent.

Nigel Gibbens, the government’s chief veterinary officer, told cattle producers that dealing with the disease in both cattle and badgers is essential to tackling the disease effectively. Results are already being shown from this strategy, with England being on track to achieve TB freedom in more than half the country by 2020. It would be the first time anywhere in England has achieved the status.

“Action to prevent infection of cattle from significant reservoirs of TB infection in local badger populations is an essential part of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England,” Gibbens said.

“Proactive badger control is currently the best available option, and the licensing of further areas is necessary to realise disease-control benefits at regional rather than at local levels.”

Badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all successful in meeting targets for 2015. Following on from this success, the government announced in December that it wants to see badger control over a wider number of areas in 2016.

Tougher movement controls, more frequent testing and working closely with farmers, vets and others to improve biosecurity both on farm and in trade all feature in the government’s long-term strategy to eradicate bovine TB.

New measures outlined today:
•    Seven additional licences for badger-control measures covering parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, with operations underway now
•    A consultation on introducing further cattle measures, including more sensitive tests for TB-affected cattle in high-risk areas and increased surveillance testing for herds in the ‘edge area’
•    A call for views on a more risk-based approach to TB testing for cattle herds in high-risk areas
•    New farm advice packs to assist affected farmers in improving biosecurity measures on farms
•    An updated online tool mapping the location of bovine TB incidents over the last five years to allow farmers to make informed decisions when buying livestock
•    A consultation on introducing further measures for controlling TB in non-bovine animals

“Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is delivering results, with more than half the country on track to be free of the disease by the end of the parliament,” said George Eustice, the minister of state at Defra.

“Bovine TB has a devastating impact on farms, which is why we are taking strong action to eradicate the disease, including tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control measures in areas where the disease is rife.

“The veterinary advice and the experience of other countries is clear – we will not be able to eradicate this disease unless we also tackle the reservoir of the disease in the badger population as well as cattle.”

Industry welcomes announcement

This latest piece of progress has been received with open arms by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).
Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU, said today’s announcement means that badger control will now be taking place in 10% of the area where cattle are at the highest risk of contracting bovine TB, although he did admit that there is still a large amount of work ahead of the industry.

“The chief veterinary officer has made it clear that dealing with the disease in both cattle and badgers is essential to tackling the disease effectively and that proactive badger control is currently the best available option for dealing with the disease in badgers,” Raymond said.

“The number of areas that have expressed interest in carrying out badger controls in future years not only shows the sheer extent of the bovine TB problem farmers are facing, but also the industry’s continued commitment to playing its part in tackling this devastating disease.

“We have always said that we must use every option available to tackle bovine TB, including cattle testing, cattle movement controls, improving biosecurity, and encouraging farmers to make informed decisions when buying cattle in from other areas.”

Raymond added that NFU members will be consulted before the union submits its response to the announcement on introducing further cattle measures, which includes more severe skin tests for herds in the areas at greatest risk from TB.

“The new farm advice packs provide farmers with information to help them improve the effectiveness of the biosecurity measures they implement on their farms, and the updated online mapping tool will allow farmers to make better informed decisions when buying in livestock to minimise the risk of bringing bovine TB onto their farms,” he added.  

“The NFU has always said that control of bovine TB in non-bovine animals has to be part of any strategy to tackle the disease so we welcome the consultation launched today on introducing further disease control measures for their species.”

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