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Owen Paterson: 'It is a tragedy we have thrown away our bTB success'

The publication in October of a report led by Sara Downs offered further evidence that badger culling can result in significant reductions in the number of new cases of TB in cattle.

Assessing the effects of four years of culling from 2013 to 2017, the Downs report finds a reduction in bTB incidence rates relative to comparison areas of 66 per cent in Gloucestershire and 36 per cent in Somerset.

 

This is incredibly encouraging news for everyone who wants to see healthy wildlife alongside healthy cattle.

 

It will also, I hope, go some way to counter the persistent but incorrect view that addressing the disease in cattle and wildlife – or improving cattle and wildlife welfare – is either or.

 

It is not. We have to address both together.

 

Whether the problem is whitetailed deer in Michigan, wild cattle in Australia, the brushtail possum in New Zealand, or, in particular, the badger in the Republic of Ireland, there is not a single country in the world which I have visited that has not tackled the disease in wildlife at the same time as it has been tackled in cattle.

 

Indeed, when we had a bipartisan approach in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, incidences of the disease were down to 0.01 per cent.

 

It is a tragedy we have thrown away such success. In the last year, despite the progress being made, more than 44,000 cattle were still slaughtered in England and Wales.


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Anguish

 

TB is a miserable disease for cattle, for wildlife and for farmers who have to endure the physical danger and mental anguish of being tested and face the consequences if their herds fail the test.

 

We simply cannot go on spending £1 billion, as we have over the last 10 years, on a disease which has been near-eradicated elsewhere in the world, and I hope these new findings will ensure we acknowledge that culling is working.

 

New technologies and new testing methods will play a role, but we have to recognise there does not need to be a binary choice between vaccination and culling.

 

Above all, our approach must continue to be evidence-led.

 

In the Westminster Hall debate at the end of last month, I urged the Government to make the basic reproduction number, R0, of bTB the focus of its efforts.

 

This measure can be understood as the number of cases one case generates on average over the course of its infectious period, in an otherwise uninfected population.

 

Hence, if R0 is less than one, the disease will not be sustainable in the long run.

 

Defra needs to focus on getting the population density of badgers down to a level where the disease peters out and we have a healthy population able to live alongside healthy cattle.

 

If that is the target of Government policy we can end the hideous trauma of TB for wildlife, for cattle, for farmers and for taxpayers.

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