Defra TB update: important questions remain unanswered, say vets

The Minister of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) George Eustice has issued a written ministerial statement, providing an update on the implementation of the Government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in England.

The update follows a consultation on licensed badger control, conducted at the start of 2017, to which the British Veterinary Association (BVA), British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) and the Association of Government Veterinarians (AGV) submitted a formal, joint response.

Commenting on today’s statement, British Veterinary Association president Gudrun Ravetz said: “We continue to support a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to tackling bovine TB. So we welcome the re-commencement of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, and we are supportive of the consultation on cattle controls that begins today – particularly as reports from the Welsh Government suggest a strategy involving tighter controls can have a positive impact on the disease situation. The application for Officially TB Free status for half of England is a marker that shows a comprehensive strategy for bovine TB eradication works.

“Yet today’s announcement and supporting guidance leaves important questions unanswered on the cull timeframes, numbers and mid-cull review methodology. We would urge clarity in each of these areas to ensure that the progress made, enabling the application for Officially TB Free status, is not undermined.

“It is clear that badger population estimates have previously demonstrated considerable uncertainty and imprecision, but to help secure disease control benefits and prevent population extinction it is critical that as accurate as possible population estimates, using an evidence-based methodology, are obtained and made openly available in advance of a licence being granted.

“Government policy seems to have moved away from the original, evidence-based proposal of a six-week time limit for badger control within the open season, which allows an intensive and simultaneous operation in order to secure optimum disease control benefits. We query whether the new guidance for cull licences provides the necessary clarity to ensure that such operations – that will not cause unnecessary pain, suffering or distress to the badgers – can effectively take place each year.

“Whilst badger culling in a targeted, effective and humane manner remains part of the Government’s bTB strategy, BVA will continue to urge Government to use the targeted and humane method of cage trapping and shooting only – rather than the continued use of controlled shooting for badger control operations.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.