Bovine TB and Badger Cull

Thank you for contacting me about the culling of badgers and controlling the spread of bovine TB.

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.

The Secretary of State commissioned Professor Sir Charles Godfray to undertake this review. Sir Charles was supported by a core working group selected for their skills, competence, expertise, and experience of operating at a strategic level and impartially. Members of the working group engaged with industry bodies, wildlife groups and veterinarians. A formal “call for evidence” invited written submissions on: new research findings, potential new approaches and tools/technologies to deal with bTB, overseas experience, and work on human TB that might be relevant to the review. The Government is considering all of the recommendations contained within the review report, and will issue a response in due course.

I am pleased to say that the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, which was suspended owing to a worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine, has reopened and will help create a protected badger population in uninfected areas. The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme has supported projects to vaccinate badgers in the ‘Edge Area’, covering counties in the middle of the country such as Cheshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire, which border the High Risk Area and are most vulnerable to the spread of the disease from the South West and West Midlands. It has aimed to create a buffer zone to help prevent the spread of bTB Eastwards to new areas of the country. A new bTB advisory service has also been launched to help farmers protect their herds and manage the impacts of a TB breakdown.

Cattle measures are the foundation upon which our Strategy is based.  As we tackle the disease in wildlife we must reinforce our cattle measures to sustain the benefits we expect to achieve, we continually look for opportunities to enhance them. Since November 2017 cattle keepers in the High Risk Area and Edge Areas can take advantage of free expert advice – from the TB Advisory Service - on how they can reduce the disease threat to their herds. Culling continues to have a vital role to play in those areas of England where the disease is rife. The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Defra’s Chief Scientist, Natural England’s Chief Scientist and the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer all support this approach.

On May 24 the Farming Minister announced plans to enable badger control in the low-risk area (predominantly the north and eastern area of England) but made clear applications will only be considered in very exceptional circumstances where there is a Bovine TB ‘hotspot’. This is where disease in badgers is linked with infected cattle herds, which is very rare in the low-risk area. Culling badgers in any area without a licence from Natural England remains illegal.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.