Thank you for contacting me about controlling the spread of bovine TB.   Bovine TB is the greatest animal health threat to the UK and causes devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities across the country. Dealing with it is costing taxpayers £100 million each year.

The Government is delivering a 25-year strategy to eradicate this disease and protect the UK's dairy and beef industries. This includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, improving biosecurity and controlling badger populations where TB is rife.   Cattle movement controls and testing are being strengthened to stop infection spreading between herds. The following measures are being taken:

Cattle herds grazing on commons have been subject to additional pre-movement testing requirements. The change means that the defaults will be for all cattle aged over 42 days moving to and from common land must be tested before the movement takes place.  

The number and type of movements that can happen without a pre-movement test have been restricted further. Farmers whose occupancy groups have been assessed as officially TB-free may now only move cattle within 10 miles on their main holding without the cattle being tested.   Further controls were introduced in spring 2016, including compulsory testing of cattle moved into the Low Risk Area of England from areas where cattle herds are tested annually (post-movement testing) and more rigorous testing of TB affected herds in the High Risk Area.  

Ministers are now consulting on further measures, including more sensitive skin tests for herds in the High Risk Area, and increased surveillance testing to six month intervals for all herds in the Edge Area. In relation to vaccination, the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme has supported projects to vaccinate badgers in the 'Edge Area', covering counties in the middle of the country such as Cheshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire, which border the high risk area and are most vulnerable to the spread of the disease from the South West and West Midlands. It has aimed aim to create a buffer zone to help prevent the spread of bovine TB to new areas of the country.  

The first year of six private badger vaccination projects funded under the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme was completed successfully. However, the ongoing worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine, and the need to prioritise human health, is impacting on supply for badger vaccination projects. Therefore, following advice from Public Health England, Elizabeth Truss, the previous Environment Secretary, took the decision to suspend attempts to source BCG vaccine for the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme and other private badger vaccination deployment projects in England until the supply situation is resolved. This follows the decision of the Welsh Government to do the same.

As part of a comprehensive strategic approach, culling continues to play a vital role. Overseas experience in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland shows that to eradicate the disease, the problem must be tackled in both cattle and wildlife. Badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset have all been successful in meeting their targets, and, following advice from the Chief Veterinary Office, seven additional licences have now been granted for parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.  

I believe that all necessary measures must be used to eradicate this devastating disease, and I am pleased to note early success. The Low Risk Area, covering over half of England, is on track to be officially TB-free by the end of 2019, which would be the first time this has been achieved anywhere in England.    

 

I have received the following from Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP:

Dear Colleague,  

25 Year Strategy to Eradicate Bovine TB in England  

With the House due to return next week, I'd like to take this opportunity to update you on the progress we are making in implementing our 25 year strategy to eradicate bovine TB.  

As many of you will know, bovine TB is the most serious animal health problem facing the UK. England has the highest incidence of the disease in Europe and over the last two decades the number of cattle slaughtered as part of efforts to control the disease has increased ten-fold, costing the taxpayer over £100 million a year. In 2015 alone, more than 28,000 cattle had to be slaughtered, causing devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities and threatening the very future of our beef and dairy industries.  

It is for these reasons that in 2013 we published a 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England. This comprehensive strategy includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, vaccinating badgers to create a buffer zone against the disease, improving biosecurity on farm and when trading, and badger control in areas where TB is rife.  

The approach of tackling the disease in cattle and in wildlife has worked in Australia, is working in New Zealand and Ireland and is supported by the Government and Defra Chief Scientists, the UK's Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) and other leading vets.  

As a result of the difficult decisions we are taking, the Low Risk Area, covering over half of England, is on track to achieve officially TB-free status by the end of 2019. This would be the first time anywhere in England has enjoyed this status.  

Cattle Controls and Biosecurity Bearing down on the disease by tightening and extending cattle movement controls, as well as improving farm biosecurity, is a key part of our strategy.  

All cattle herds are regularly tested for TB, with those in high-risk areas tested annually or more often and any cattle that test positive slaughtered. This Spring we introduced further controls, including compulsory testing of cattle moved into the Low Risk Area of England from areas where cattle herds are tested annually (post-movement testing) and more rigorous testing of TB affected herds in the High Risk Area. We are now consulting on further measures, including more sensitive skin tests for herds in the High Risk Area and increased surveillance testing to six month intervals for all herds in the Edge Area.  

We continue to promote risk-based trading to reduce the risk of spreading the disease associated with cattle movements and we are working closely with farmers and others to deliver improved farm biosecurity, including a new TB Hub to provide advice to farmers on the actions they can take to protect their herds. Other initiatives due to be launched include an industry-led cattle health accreditation scheme for TB and training for vets to help them better advise their clients on TB biosecurity.  

Badger Vaccination While badger vaccination cannot cure sick animals, which will continue to spread disease, in 2014 we launched the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) to support vaccination projects in the Edge Area bordering the area where TB is most prevalent. Vaccinating healthy badgers is intended to create a buffer zone to help prevent the spread of TB to new areas of the country where the incidence of TB is low. The four-year package of support included funding of up to 50 per cent of costs, in addition to free advice from experts, free loans of equipment and free vaccine supply.  

The first year of the six badger vaccination projects funded under BEVS was completed in 2015. However, the ongoing shortage of BCG vaccine and the need to prioritise available stocks for humans is impacting on the supply for badger vaccination. Following the advice of Public Health England, the Government took the decision to suspend attempts to source BCG vaccine for badger vaccination projects until the supply situation is resolved. This follows the Welsh Government's decision to do the same.  

Badger Control International experience shows that to eradicate bovine TB, the problem must be tackled in both cattle and in any significant wildlife sources. Australia eradicated TB in 2002 through a 30-year programme of measures including culling of feral water buffalo. New Zealand is on the verge of achieving TB-free status by cattle and deer controls combined with culling of brush-tailed possums. As a result, the number of infected cattle and deer herds has dropped from 1,700 in the mid-1990s to less than 100 now.  

The Republic of Ireland is making steady progress towards achieving TB-free status with herd incidence falling from 5.86% in 2004 to 3.37% in 2014.   In 2013, Professor Charles Godfray's independent review of the science, which brought together leading UK experts, concluded that TB spreads within and between populations of badgers and cattle and that spread from badgers to cattle is an important cause of herd breakdowns in high-incidence areas. This is why badger control in those areas of England where the disease is rife is a vital part of any eradication strategy.  

Last year, badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all successful. The Chief Veterinary Officer's advice is that the results show that industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits.

This year, as part of our comprehensive strategy, seven additional licences for badger control have been granted for parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. This is in line with the CVO's advice on what is needed to realise disease control benefits at a regional level.  

I hope this update demonstrates the action we are taking to eradicate bovine TB and how important it is that we use every tool at our disposal to beat this disease.

Best wishes,  

 

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs