Bovine TB is one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK. It not only has a devastating impact on our beef and dairy farms, but costs taxpayers £100 million each year.
Ministers are delivering a 25-year strategy to eradicate this disease and protect the UK's dairy and beef industries. This includes one of the world's most rigorous cattle surveillance programmes, strong movement controls, promoting good biosecurity and badger control where the disease is rife.
In November 2018, a review of the Bovine TB Strategy for England was published. This review reflected on the progress which has been made in achieving the target of Officially Free status for England by 2038, and what further actions should be prioritised.
The report found, among other things, that industry must take greater responsibility for on-farm controls, biosecurity and safe trading practices to stop the disease spreading, and that more can be done to help farmers make purchasing decisions reflecting the risks of cattle being infected. It also recommended that a new independent body on disease control would be helpful to take over disease control operations from APHA, Natural England and local authorities.
As part of a comprehensive strategic approach, culling continues to play an important 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. Operations continue with new and supplementary licences issued in the High-Risk areas of England, and in Low Risk Area of England in the rare event that disease in badgers is linked with infected herds, to prevent further spread.
It is important to note that action on eradicating Bovine TB is a matter devolved to the administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland is a Bovine TB-free country and badgers are not culled in Scotland as a method to control the disease.
I have recently written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the matter of badger control and the need for all options for managing Bovine TB to be fully considered and evidence based.