New measures to control bovine tb in badgers

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Proposals for additional measures to help control bovine tuberculosis in cattle were published for public consultation today by Agriculture Minister Jim Paice.

Defra is consulting on a proposal to issue licences to farmers and landowners who wish to cull and/or vaccinate badgers at their own expense. These licences would be subject to strict licence criteria to ensure badger control is done effectively, humanely and with high regard for animal welfare.

Jim Paice said:

“Bovine TB is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses and families, especially in the West and South West of England. Last year 25,000 cattle were slaughtered because of the disease, and it cost the taxpayer over £63 million in England alone.

“We can’t go on like this. It’s clear that the current approach has failed to stop the spread of this terrible disease. We need to take urgent action to halt its spread.

“No single measure will be enough to tackle the disease on its own. But the science is clear: there is no doubt that badgers are a significant reservoir for the disease and without taking action to control the disease in them, it will continue to spread. No country in the world has eradicated bovine TB without dealing with the reservoir in wildlife. That’s why I’m today launching a consultation on how we can tackle the disease in badgers.”

“A decision on our approach will be taken following the consultation. I intend to publish a comprehensive and balanced bovine TB eradication programme early in 2011.”

The consultation proposes issuing licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable farmers and landowners to cull badgers, at their own expense. Under the Government’s new proposal, they will be able to use vaccination either on its own or in combination with culling. Licences would be subject to strict criteria to ensure culling is carried out effectively, humanely and with high regard to animal welfare. They will also be asked to explain how they intend to minimise the negative effect in the surrounding area identified by the Randomised Bader Culling Trial (RBCT). Farmers and landowners are already able to apply for licences to vaccinate badgers.

Culling will only be allowed in areas where there is a high incidence of bovine TB in cattle.

Jim Paice added:

“I have looked carefully at the potential for using badger vaccination. Based on veterinary advice and the available scientific evidence, the Government’s assessment is that vaccination on its own will not reduce disease as quickly as culling. However by using it in combination with culling, it is possible to maximise the effectiveness of badger control in reducing bovine TB in cattle.”

Cattle measures will remain central to the Government’s bovine TB programme though some changes are planned to ensure that they are better targeted on the basis of disease risk. Most existing cattle measures will remain firmly in place - in some cases controls will be tightened where we know there is a higher disease risk, and in some cases burdens on farmers will be reduced, but only where we are confident that this will not increase disease risk. Jim Paice confirmed that pre-movement testing will remain in place following a review, and announced some minor changes to TB testing that will take effect immediately.

Further details can be found via www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/animals/diseases/tb

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