England to seek Officially TB-Free status for half the country in 2017

England is set to apply for Officially TB-Free (OTF) status for more than half of the country next year. 

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), dealing with Bovine TB in England costs taxpayers over £100m a year, and required the culling of 28,000 cattle in 2015.

It is hoped that gaining OTF status for the low-risk area, covering the north and east of England, would “boost trade opportunities and mean some herds require less regular TB testing, reducing costs for farmers”.

If received, it would be the first time anywhere in England has enjoyed this status and a “key step in the government’s 25-year plan for the whole of the UK to be TB-free by 2038”. If half of England is given OTF status in 2017, that would put the government two years ahead of its bTB plan.

It followed the announcement that all ten licensed badger control operations achieved successful outcomes. The government is consulting on future steps for badger control.

Announcing the plan, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Gaining global recognition that more than half of England is TB-free will be a significant milestone in our long-term plan to eradicate this devastating disease, and will open up new trading opportunities for farmers.

“We have much still to do in the worst affected parts of the country, but this shows that our strategy – combining practical biosecurity measures, a robust cattle movement and testing regime, and badger control in areas where the disease is rife – is right and is working.”

The announcement was welcomed by the industry.

National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond said: “The news that more than half of England could have Officially TB-Free status two years ahead of the Government’s original timetable will be a welcome boost for beef and dairy farmers in those areas.

“I would like to thank all the people involved with the cull companies for their hard work and dedication which ensured this year’s culls were completed safely, humanely and effectively, as well as successfully in terms of reaching the targets necessary to be confident of achieving the disease control benefits we all want.

“If culling is to have the maximum impact on disease it is vital that it takes place in as much of the area where bTB is rife as possible. We will continue to offer help, advice and support to farmers who want to apply for a cull licence in these areas and where culling will have a beneficial impact on disease control.”

Gudrun Ravetz, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “This is a marker that shows a comprehensive strategy of bovine TB eradication works and we are pleased to see this strategy will now also include more coherent powers to tackle the disease in other species at risk such as pigs, sheep, goats, deer and camelids, bringing them more in line with cattle controls.

“We also welcome support for farmers to reduce the risk of infection and increase biosecurity for their herds, including the new cattle industry-led CHeCS TB cattle herd accreditation scheme, which helps farmers to take a proactive approach to controlling bTB.”

Other measures announced as part of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB included the wider use of blood tests alongside the current skin test in the high-risk area to provide a more sensitive testing regime in TB affected herds, minimising the risk of leaving infected animals in herds; a plan to introduce new, more coherent powers to manage the TB risk in pigs, sheep, goats, deer and camelids, to bring them more in line with cattle controls. This will include new statutory compensation arrangements for these species, and more frequent updates to the ibTB online tool which allows farmers to view TB outbreaks close to their farm. From early in 2017 the data will be refreshed every fortnight rather than every month.

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