UK Government

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (National): New measures to control bovine tb in badgers

Press Release   •   Sep 15, 2010 12:51 BST

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

Notes to Editors

1.    The consultation closes on 8 December 2010 and can be found atwww.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/tb-control-measures/

2.    Badger culling has the potential to reduce bovine TB in cattle by rapidly reducing the overall number of infected badgers, thus reducing the rate of transmission of the disease to cattle.  The main body of evidence on the impact badger culling has on incidence of bovine TB in cattle is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) which took place between 1998 and 2007. The results of this major Government-funded trial demonstrate that badger culling, done on a sufficient scale, in a widespread, coordinated and efficient way, and over a sustained period of time, would reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas. No other country in the world with a similar reservoir of bovine TB in wildlife has eradicated TB from cattle without stringent wildlife control measures.

3.    The RBCT showed that incidence of TB in cattle on land immediately surrounding the culling area increased initially.  Over the course of the trial, this negative effect tailed off, and the latest RBCT analysis shows that the level of TB in cattle in the surrounding area is comparable with the un-culled survey-only areas. However, measures can be put in place to mitigate the negative effects seen in the surrounding area, such as setting a required minimum area over which culling must take place and making use of barriers such as coastlines and major rivers, to limit badger movement.  Also badgers in the surrounding area could be vaccinated.

4.    Badger control licences would be subject to strict criteria to ensure that  measures are carried out effectively, humanely, and with high regard to animal welfare.  This will include a requirement that any culling must take place over a minimum area of 150km2 so we can be confident it will have a net beneficial effect.  This means that we would expect to receive licence applications from groups of famers and landowners rather than individuals. Applicants will also need to demonstrate that they have considered taking further steps  to minimise the potential detrimental effect at the edge of a culling area.

5.    Licences will only permit culling by cage-trapping and shooting, and by shooting free-running badgers, carried out by trained, competent operators with appropriate firearms licences.  Defra ruled out gassing and snaring on the basis that we do not have sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they are humane and effective methods of culling.

6.    The Government will fund the cost of the licensing operation and monitor the effects of the policy.  We expect the farming industry to bear the direct costs of badger control.

7.    We will continue to look over the next few months at: changes to TB terminology; strengthening controls on high risk unconfirmed breakdowns; extending the use of gamma interferon testing to all confirmed breakdown herds in the two year testing areas; providing better support for TB restricted farmers by enhancing their options for selling surplus stock.

8.    In 2009/10 controlling bovine TB cost the taxpayer £63million in England.  An additional £8.9million was spent on research.

Contacts

NDS Enquiries 
Phone: For enquiries please contact the issuing dept 
ndsenquiries@coi.gsi.gov.uk