Towards a TB-free England

17 January 2024

Cows in a field

Photograph: Farlap / Alamy

What did we learn when the TB Advisory Service brought together 260 farmers, scientists, vets, stakeholders and policy-makers in Worcester?

Official figures released in September 2023 meant that this was a conference that convened with cause for big-picture optimism and, against a changing strategy for ridding England of bTB (bovine TB) by 2038, some nervousness.

Delegates heard how cattle slaughtered due to bTB in England in the last 12-month snapshot had fallen 21% to 19,216 – the first time the figure has dipped below 20,000 since 2008. In the High-Risk Area the progress has outstripped even that historic mark, with herd incidence, a measure used by Defra to quantify the risk of a breakdown, at its lowest since 2006.

Some wildlife control still on the table

The next phase of the bTB Eradication Programme for England is geared towards badger and cattle vaccination and will bring an end to wider wildlife controls, but Defra has reserved the right to cull badgers where the epidemiology suggests it would be beneficial.

In a written statement to the conference, Secretary of State Mark Spencer said “controversial” elements of the programme had been proven right. He added: “We will always follow the science and deploy all tools at our disposal. Where evidence
supports culling, we will continue to take that course.”

But seeing those numbers come through from our transmission experiments in Ethiopia has given me far more confidence. I really think this can make a difference.

Professor James Woods

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