To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what progress he has in phasing out badger culling through the use of (a) field trials of cattle vaccinations, (b) increasing the number of badgers vaccinated against bovine TB and (c) improved testing to intercept bovine TB earlier; and if he will make a statement.
We have awarded funding for a five-year badger vaccination programme in East Sussex. The scheme, which will see vaccination deployed by the farming community, will help refine future delivery models for deploying large scale farmer-led vaccination schemes.
This year we also intend to undertake government-funded badger vaccination in an area where four-year intensive badger culling has ended, with ongoing surveillance of the disease in badgers in the area. We will continue to bolster our capability to deploy even more badger vaccination in post-cull areas from 2022.
By 2025 it is our aim to have significantly expanded badger vaccination across land where four-year intensive badger culling has ended. Through this we will gain a better understanding of the practicalities of deployment in a reduced badger population, as well as the effect of badger vaccination on reducing disease spread to cattle.
The Government has developed a 'Train the Trainer' course to enable experienced cage-trappers and lay vaccinators to qualify as trainers. This scheme is designed to increase the number of certified trainers who can then train new lay-vaccinators and trappers in localised training hubs. This alleviates pressure on the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), who to date have been the sole training provider, enabling more lay people to qualify as badger vaccinators than ever before.
Our world-leading cattle vaccination trials are set to begin this summer in England and Wales, marking the latest milestone in our aim to achieve officially TB free (OTF) status for England by 2038. This has been made possible by a significant scientific breakthrough by APHA in developing a new skin test that can detect infected among vaccinated cattle (a DIVA test) and is a major step forwards in our battle against bovine TB. As wider preventive measures like cattle vaccines are introduced, we will also accelerate other elements of our strategy and start to phase out badger culling in England, as no one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.
From 12 July the policy for mandatory interferon gamma (IFN-γ) blood testing of cattle in the High Risk Area and parts of the Edge Area of England will be changing, to focus our efforts on those herds that suffer a new TB breakdown within 18 months of the end of a previous incident. By the end of this year, APHA will also be opening a new IFN-γ testing laboratory in Thirsk to better cope with the projected increasing demand for this supplementary cattle TB test.
Also from July, most cattle herds in the counties of the High Risk Area of the West of England will undergo routine surveillance for TB using the tuberculin skin test every six months instead of annually.
Further information about these two forthcoming cattle TB testing policy changes can be found on the TB Hub: