Badger culling is set to be rolled more widely across England next year, alongside the introduction of compulsory post-movement testing, as the Government steps up its efforts to eradicate bovine TB.
Defra Secretary Liz Truss outlined the next steps for delivering the 25-year TB eradication strategy on Thursday morning, including an acceleration of measures to address the disease in both badger and cattle.
She revealed targets for culling badgers had been met in all three cull areas this autumn, with 1,467 removed during six-week culls in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
Defra’s Chief Veterinary Officer has advised the results show industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits, Mrs Truss said.
She announced the Government would consider applications to control badgers over a wider number of areas next year.
"Badger control in the south west has been successful and we will enable it to take place over a wide number of areas next year," she said.
Defra is permitted to licence up to 10 new areas a year, although in reality it is unlikely that number would be in a position to meet the strict licence conditions next year.
A number of areas are likely to be interested in applying for new licences, however, including groups of farmers in Devon, Cornwall and Herefordshire who had licence applications turned down last year.
But of equal, if not greater significance to many farmers, will be two important changes to cattle controls.
From April, all cattle brought into England’s low risk area (LRA) from the edge and high risk areas (HRA) will have to be post-movement tested within 120 days of joining the herd.
Defra said the move was ‘well supported’ by most respondents to the consultation on the proposal, including the TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG) and veterinary bodies, as a ‘proportionate way of improving the early detection of infected cattle moved to the LRA from higher TB risk herds’.
The other significant change to cattle controls will make it harder for herds in the HRA to get clear from TB restrictions in certain cases.
Currently, herds in the HRA where all reactors have no visible lesions and show negative laboratory culture results only need one clear 60-day skin test to regain TB-free status.
In a policy already in place in the EA, all new breakdowns in the HRA will be required to get through two consecutive short interval herd tests, read under severe interpretation, before restrictions are lifted, regardless of the outcome of post mortem inspections and culture tests.
The change will come in next year, although the date has not been specified.
Defra acknowledged the move would result in some TB affected herds being restricted for a longer period than they would currently and impose additional costs on farmers and Government through extra testing.
"However, reducing the risk of leaving residual infection in the herd would bring disease control and financial benefits for the individual farmer, other farmers they trade with, industry and for government," it said.
But, while controls will be strengthened in some areas, Mrs Truss confirmed Defra would be following the Welsh Government in suspending sourcing of the BCG badger vaccine.
This followed advice from Public Health England in response to a global shortage of BCG and the need to ‘prioritise humans over badgers’.
This will have implications for a number of vaccination projects in England, including six private projects funded for one year so far under the scheme to vaccinate badgers in the Edge Area.
Mrs Truss said Defra’s TB strategy, which also includes improving biosecurity on farm, was delivering results, with England’s LRA on track to achieve officially TB-free status by 2019. This would be the first time anywhere in England has been declared TB free.
Mrs Truss said: “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB through tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control is delivering results.
“We are on track to deliver TB freedom to more than half of the country by the end of this Parliament which will boost our trade prospects and is expected to deliver benefits worth millions of pounds to our dairy and beef industries.
“The road to TB-freedom is a long one but if we are to have a successful and resilient industry, capitalising on the growing reputation of British beef and dairy, we must remain resolute in our determination to tackle this disease.
"We must remain committed to our 25-year strategy.”
Defra has published the figures the 2015 badger culls. Badger culling took place for six weeks across three areas during the autumn.
The targets, albeit a generous one in Somerset in particular, were met in all three cases
From April 2016, post-movement testing will be required for cattle entering, either directly or via a market, the Low Risk Area of England from herds in England on annual (or more frequent) surveillance testing and from herds in designated counties in Wales.
Herd owners will be responsible for arranging and paying for post-movement skin tests, which would be required within 120 days of an animal joining the herd.
At least 60 days must have passed since the animal’s most recent skin test.
Various exemptions will apply, including animals slaughtered within 120 days of arriving in the LRA, and animals moving to:
The policy is already in place in Scotland.
The current requirement for regaining TB-free (OTF) status in the high risk area of England is:
From next year - the date has not been specified - all new breakdowns in the HRA, regardless of post-mortem or laboratory culture results, will be required to get through two consecutive short interval herd tests, read under severe interpretation, before restrictions are lifted.
Any further tests would be read under standard interpretation provided that no post-mortem or laboratory evidence of TB is found.
This policy already applies in England’s TB Edge Area.
In the Low Risk Area, TB breakdown herds with no post-mortem evidence of disease would generally (with a few exceptions) continue to require one short interval skin test with negative results at standard interpretation before restrictions are lifted.