Government report confirms TB strategy retains culling option

Commenting on government plans for the next stage of its 25-year bovine TB eradication strategy including field trials of a cattle vaccine, plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease and improved testing to intercept bTB earlier, NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said:

“Bovine TB continues to devastate family farming businesses across large parts of the country. Last year nearly 33,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of this terrible disease.

"In order to control and eradicate bTB it’s important to see that the report acknowledges the need to retain intensive culling in a targeted way where the epidemiological evidence requires it. The NFU has always been absolutely clear that any move away from an intensive culling policy – whether that’s in five years, 10 years or longer- should not be rushed and sufficient science and evidence must support any such move. In areas where TB in badgers is endemic, we must retain culling as a vital tool enabling industry to get on top of the disease quickly and reduce further transmission.

“As Defra Secretary of State George Eustice acknowledges, there is clear evidence that badger culling as part of the government’s 25-year eradication strategy is working. The latest peer-reviewed research definitively shows the significant impact culling badgers has on reducing TB levels in cattle alongside farmers enhancing their biosecurity on farm and robust cattle movement controls.

"The NFU supports tackling the disease in every possible way but it is frustrating that too often culling and badger vaccination are given a false equivalence. Vaccination may have a role to play in areas where TB hasn’t taken hold, but it is important to note vaccination has never been demonstrated to reduce the disease with the same efficacy as culling, nor has it ever cured an infected badger.

“We welcome other measures to assist in eradicating this disease such as further funding and research into cattle vaccination and look forward to the results of field trials. However, we are still currently waiting for answers if an effective, practical and accessible cattle vaccine is achievable which can protect our cattle within a cost-effective framework.

“Sir Charles Godfray noted in his review of the government’s bTB strategy that there are no easy answers. That’s why we must use every available option – cattle testing, cattle movement controls, biosecurity, vaccination when available and where appropriate, and control of the disease in wildlife in areas where it is endemic. Only by employing this comprehensive approach will we stand a chance of achieving what everyone wants – healthy cattle, healthy wildlife and a TB free England.”

The NFU has produced a summary of Defra's response to the Godfray bTB strategy review, available for NFU members to download here.

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