Next phase of TB eradication strategy set out by the government  - Veterinary Practice
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Next phase of TB eradication strategy set out by the government 

Views sought on targeted culling with increased use of badger vaccination

A consultation launched has set out new proposals for delivering the next phase of the government’s TB eradication strategy.

Bovine tuberculosis is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today, causing devastation for farming and rural communities and leading to tens of thousands of cattle being culled each year.

Herd of cows

The government’s strategy to eradicate bTB in England by 2038 – published in 2014 – has followed the science to turn the tide on this insidious disease. The 12-month period ending September 2023 saw the number of new bTB breakdowns in cattle down at a near 20-year low. The latest peer-reviewed evidence from the first 52 areas where badger culling was conducted also shows a reduction in rates of bTB breakdowns in cattle down on average by 56 percent after four years of culling.

While these gains are significant, we must continue to drive down disease levels across England using an evidence-led approach and deploying all tools at our disposal.

While the majority of our disease control measures focus on cattle, the proposals are subject to a five-week consultation and will retain badger culling as an option in targeted parts only of the High-Risk Area and Edge Areas, including much of southwest and central England, where there are high levels of infection in cattle, and where evidence suggests badgers are part of the problem in the spread of disease to these herds.

Culling would continue in these targeted areas until the disease situation has been deemed to have improved, following an annual review by the UK’s chief veterinary officer. At this point, badger vaccination would be used to ensure the results achieved through culling are maintained. This sets out a clear exit strategy to non-lethal control preventing the return of disease in these areas.

The strategy builds on our investment in wider-scale badger vaccination, which is now much more of a reality. More farms are involved in vaccination programmes than ever before, including in areas where badger culling has ended.

Environment secretary Steve Barclay said: “Bovine TB has taken a terrible toll on farmers, leading to the loss of highly prized animals and, in the worst cases, valued herds.

“There are no easy answers in the battle against TB, but badger culling has proved highly effective and needs to remain a key part of our approach.

“Our strategy has led to a significant reduction in this insidious disease, which we will continue to cull in areas where the evidence confirms it is required, as well as using vaccinations.”

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Our strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is turning the tide on this disease, with the lowest number of new bTB breakdowns in nearly twenty years. We are making good progress toward eradicating the disease by 2038, as we have committed to do.

“The proposals will ensure this downward trend continues, and all culling decisions taken under the new targeted approach will continue to be guided by the very best scientific and epidemiological evidence.”

The consultation also seeks views on Defra assuming the licensing authority role for licences issued under the policy along with the intention to reduce the administrative burden placed on farming groups delivering badger culling and vaccination through the use of a single organisational licence.

Views are also sought on options for publishing additional information about animal and herd-level bTB risk – for example, the most recent TB test completed in the herd – to help those purchasing cattle to factor in such risks when sourcing new stock.

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