Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy and detailed programme on badger culling and other means of controlling tuberculosis in badgers over the next five years.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government remains committed to the goal of achieving Officially Free bovine TB status for the whole of England by 2038.

On 5 March 2020, the Government published its response to Professor Sir Charles Godfray's 2018 review of England's bovine TB eradication strategy, setting out the priorities for the next phase of the strategy around three key priorities.

We will provide funding to accelerate the research and trial work necessary to authorise the BCG vaccine for use in cattle alongside a test that can differentiate between vaccinated cattle and those with the disease. Our aim is to have a deployable cattle vaccine within the next five years. Vaccination will never provide full protection but could significantly reduce the spread of the disease both between cattle and between cattle herds and wildlife. The UK can harness its world-leading science in developing solutions such as vaccination that would also be valuable to other countries.

Secondly, we will also begin an exit strategy from intensive badger culling, while ensuring that wildlife control remains an option where the epidemiological evidence supports it (i.e. areas where badgers pose a significant source of TB infection). We intend to pilot government-funded badger vaccination in at least one area where the four-year cull cycle has concluded, with simultaneous surveillance of disease. We envisage that any remaining areas would join the current cull programme in the next few years and that the badger cull phase of the strategy would then wind down by the mid to late 2020s.

We will continue to support badger vaccination projects in areas where the prevalence of disease is low. We will also investigate the potential for projects where adjacent vaccination and culling could complement each other in controlling disease. Changes to our guidance to Natural England on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.

Thirdly, we will invest in the deployment of better, more frequent, and more diverse cattle testing, so that we are able to detect the presence of the disease earlier and remove it from cattle herds faster. The frequency of mandatory surveillance testing in two high risk area counties – Shropshire and Staffordshire – will increase from annual to six-monthly as soon as the COVID-19 situation allows. We expect this to be extended across the high risk area from 2021.

There is no single answer to tackling the scourge of bovine TB but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve our long-term objective of eradicating it by 2038.

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