Bovine TB is a serious disease whose incidence has been increasing steadily since the 1980s, with the number of new cases doubling every nine years. In the last 10 years it has cost the taxpayer £500 million and, if left unchecked, the bill would rise to £1 billion over the next decade. The Government remains committed to using all available means to address this disease.
Information collected in the first year of the four-year badger cull pilots was considered by an independent panel of experts, whose report was released in April. Alongside the Government’s response the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, published a comprehensive strategy for England to become TB free by 2038.
The strategy involves a wide range of tools. Cattle movement controls and the testing regime will be strengthened to stop infection from spreading between herds. Biosecurity will be improved by helping farmers understand the disease risk of cattle they buy. There will be continued investment in developing a new vaccine for cattle and an oral badger vaccine. There will also be match-funding for badger vaccination projects in the ‘edge areas’ at the frontier of the disease, with the aim of increasing TB immunity in uninfected badgers.
As lessons from other countries have shown, such as in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the USA, where there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife, combating TB requires long-term solutions that couple these measures with tackling the reservoir through culling.
Following the panel’s recommendations, a series of changes will be made ahead of the second year of culling in Somerset and Gloucestershire. These will include more extensive training for those carrying out the cull, better planning by the licensed companies to ensure culling is spread evenly and better data collection to assess progress. They will be monitored to assess their impact before further decisions are taken on the issuing of more badger cull licences.
Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in this strategy, to make England TB free.