Bovine TB policy must be based on scientific evidence, NFU tells Minister

25 October 2023

Cattle waiting to be TB tested

Future bovine TB control must be based on sound scientific evidence, the NFU has stressed in an on-farm meeting with Defra Minister of State Lord Benyon.

The call came after new research underlined the effectiveness of badger culling as part of a holistic strategy to eradicate bTB in England. It also followed widely-reported comments from the Shadow Farming Minister, Daniel Zeichner, that a Labour government would not include badger culling in its strategy.

Research findings

The Birch Review, an analysis by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, suggests bTB in herds can be reduced by 56% in areas where there has been four years of culling.

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw highlighted the findings to the Minster, alongside those of the independent Godfray Review of 2018, which recommended wildlife control as an important part of TB eradication.

He said afterwards: “I’d like to thank the Minister for meeting with us to hear how bTB continues to have a huge and devastating impact on thousands of farming families, causing enormous mental and financial strain.

Current strategy is working

“The current strategy, which includes wildlife control, is based on scientific research that shows a significant reduction of bTB in cattle. This is a strategy that is working, which is why we were so concerned to hear reports that Shadow Farming Minister Daniel Zeichner says a Labour government will not include culling within its strategy to make England bTB free.

“Bovine TB should not be a political issue; it is a disease that affects the lives of farming families and their cattle herds on a day-to-day basis.”

Must not be complacent


“The current strategy, which includes wildlife control, is based on scientific research that shows a significant reduction of bTB in cattle. This is a strategy that is working."

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw

He added: “Cattle vaccination trials are underway, and a workable vaccine for cattle would be a significant tool as part of a range of measures, if proved successful in the field. But we’re not there yet and, while we wait, we mustn’t become complacent. We must keep all of the tools that have been proven to work.

“We will continue to work with all political parties to ensure the importance of this scientific evidence is understood, to enable a future we all want; a country with a TB free status.”

Under the government’s TB eradication strategy, the issuing of licences for new badger culls ended last year.

Supplementary wildlife controls in existing areas are due to finish in 2025, with the focus shifting towards vaccination of badgers and, when available, cattle.

However, Defra has reserved the right for science-led, targeted culls beyond 2025, as underlined in September by the Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey at an NFU reception as part of Back British Farming Day. A consultation is anticipated in the near future.

Figures in September showed that the number of cattle slaughtered due to bTB in England fell 21% in the year to June 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.

The total of 19,216 marked the first time that the figure has dipped below 20,000 in a single 12-month period since 2008.

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