Bovine TB is a serious disease and its incidence has been increasing steadily since the 1980s with the number of new cases doubling every nine years. In the last 10 years the disease has cost the taxpayer £500 million. The Government remains committed to using all available means to address this disease. Badger culls have now been carried out in Gloucestershire and Somerset, which are TB hotspot areas, by trained professionals. An application for a short extension to the Somerset badger cull has now been granted by Natural England. An application to extend the Gloucestershire badger cull is now being considered.
Optional Parliamentary Assessment and Vote:
As I understand it, the monitoring of effectiveness in terms of badger removal, humaneness and safety in the pilot areas is being overseen and evaluated by an independent panel of experts who will report their findings to Ministers. A decision will then be taken on wider roll-out. As a consequence of this rigorous and independent evaluation process I believe it is right that the final decision will be reported to Parliament in 2014
There is now very clear evidence from Ireland that badger culling has worked, and that earlier huge investment in non-wildlife interventions in the late 80s and early 90s in Ireland led to no improvement in the disease situation. The cattle control measures implemented in the Republic of Ireland in the past 10 years are virtually the same as those that have been introduced in the high TB areas in England. However, in Ireland as a result of culling, the number of infected cattle has now fallen from more than 28,000 to a little over 18,000, and the trend is clearly downwards.
In England restrictions on cattle movements have been further strengthened to reduce the chance of disease spreading, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) continues to look at ways to improve the testing of cattle for TB. The Government has also funded and developed an injectable badger vaccine but this has its limitations. Badgers need to be trapped before they can be vaccinated, and the process has to be repeated annually for many years. In addition, the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective in preventing TB. As a result, current vaccines will not be as effective as culling in reducing the spread of the disease.
Defra is also planning to invest a further £11.7m in vaccine development over the next three years to develop an oral vaccine for badgers, which may be cheaper and more effective than an injectable vaccine, in addition to a vaccine for cattle.
However, it will be many years before these methods are available and the vaccination of our national herd is prohibited by EU legislation. Our cattle industry cannot wait that long. It is therefore vital that the Government uses every tool at its disposal to check the progress of this devastating disease.