19/07/2011

Government comes close to green-lighting 'science-led, strictly controlled' badger culls

DEFRA has come close to green-lighting badger culls in England to control the spread of bovine TB (bTB) in the country.

DEFRA has come close to green-lighting badger culls in England to control the spread of bovine TB (bTB) in the country.

A badgerMeasures outlined by secretary of state for the environment Caroline Spelman earlier today (July 19) include proposals to license groups of farmers and landowners to carry out science-led, strictly controlled culls of badgers in areas worst affected by TB.

The Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England sets a comprehensive package of measures to tackle TB in cattle, badgers and other animals, including the Government’s view that it is strongly minded to allow a science-led cull of badgers.

Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2010 because of bTB, which cost the country an estimated £90m. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23 per cent of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease.

Cattle measures, including routine testing and surveillance, pre-movement testing, movement restrictions and removal and slaughter of infected animals, will remain the foundation of the TB eradication programme, Mrs Spelman announced.

The Government said it would work with the farming industry and the veterinary profession to continue to promote good biosecurity and provide advice and support to farmers, as well as investing £20m over the next five years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible.

Mrs Spelman said: “This terrible disease is getting worse, and we’ve got to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities. There’s also the effect on the farming economy and taxpayers. Bovine TB will cost us £1b over the next decade in England alone if we don’t take more action.

“First, we need to stop the disease spreading even further. Then we need to bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it.

“We cannot go on like this. Many farmers are desperate and feel unable to control the disease in their herds. And we know that unless we tackle the disease in badgers we will never be able to eradicate it in cattle. We also know that there is no country in the world that has successfully controlled TB in cattle without addressing its presence in the wildlife population.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to vaccinate both cattle and badgers, and we’re investing in research – but there are serious practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which is the only available option.

And she added: "We are working hard to develop a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, but a usable and approved cattle vaccine and oral badger vaccine are much further away than we thought and we can’t say with any certainty if and when they will be ready. We simply can’t afford to keep waiting."

"We already have a robust set of cattle controls in place, but we need to accept that in some parts of the country they just aren’t enough. Unless we tackle each and every transmission route, including from badgers to cattle, we are likely to see the situation deteriorate further. There is great strength of feeling on this issue, which is why I have carefully considered the scientific evidence and the large number of responses to the public consultation. I know that a large section of the public is opposed to culling, and that many people are particularly concerned about whether it will actually be effective in reducing TB in cattle and about whether it will be humane.

“I wish there was some other practical way of dealing with this, but we can’t escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in areas worst affected by bovine TB."

Badger control licences would be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable groups of farmers and landowners to reduce badger populations at their own expense.

A further consultation is to take place on some amendments to the policy and how the Natural England would license culling activity.

Initially in the first year, the culling method would be piloted in two areas, to confirm the effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting, overseen by an independent panel of scientific experts. If this is found to be effective, then and only then would this policy be rolled out more widely.

Measures already introduced to combat bTB include:
• a significant expansion of the areas on more frequent (annual and two-yearly) routine TB testing;
• some higher risk Officially TB-Free (OTF) status suspended herds are now required to have two consecutive short interval tests (rather than one as before) before they can regain OTF status;
• extended use of gamma testing;
• clarifying TB breakdown terminology (moving to "OTF status suspended" and "withdrawn", instead of "unconfirmed" and "confirmed"), so farmers better understand the disease risk and status of their herd; and
• DNA tagging to prevent TB reactor fraud.

Planned measures include:
• reducing compensation payments for reactor animals from herds where TB tests are significantly overdue;
• strengthening enforcement of TB surveillance and control requirements; and
• removing some of the exemptions to the requirement to test animals before they move out of herds under annual and two-year routine testing.

Further information and a copy of the consultation, which closes on September 20, can be found here

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