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Defra unveils 25-year bovine TB eradication plan

Farmers will shoulder more of the cost burden and take on more of the responsibility for managing the disease under a comprehensive new bovine TB strategy for England.

Distinct approaches to tackling the disease will be adopted in the areas defined as the Low Risk Area, the Edge Area and the High Risk Area to reflect the regional differences in how the disease is spread. For example in the hotspot areas of the South West and Midlands the focus is on addressing the disease in cattle and wildlife to reverse the upward spread, while enhanced cattle controls, like compulsory post-movement testing, will be introduced in a bid to eradicate the disease in the cleaner areas.

 

The goal will be move to a position where counties in the Low Risk Area can achieve Officially TB-Free (OTF) status, easing the TB control burden and facilitating trade’, ‘as soon as possible’ in a phased approach that will create a two-tier cattle trading zone.

 

A target has been set of achieving OTF status for ‘much of England’ by 2025 and the whole country in 25 years.

 

The other key theme underpinning the strategy is the development of an ‘enhanced partnership’ in TB control where farmers are encouraged to take more responsibility for disease controls and a landed with a greater share of the costs.  

 

The strategy document, published on Thursday and based partly on the work of Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, leans heavily on the experience of New Zealand, where control of bTB has been fully devolved to an industry-led body and the industry

has co-financed the budget through levies and grants.

 

The strategy stresses that the current cost of TB control to taxpayers is ‘not sustainable’, highlighting a likely £20m shortfall in the estimated at £95m cost in 2014/15 and the funds allocated in the budget. 

 

It sets out a whole range of policy options, to be consulted on over the summer, to achieve these broad aims, including the widespread adoption of risk-based trading to reduce the risk of cattle spread across the country, reductions in TB compensation, including in ways to incentivise good practice on farms.

 

Farmers will also be increasingly asked to fund and organise elements of TB control like TB testing and vaccination and maybe given a greater say in the sale of TB reactors into the food chain.

 

The strategy also seeks to pave the way for a ‘mutual TB control fund’ financed by Government and the food and farming industry and the adoption of TB eradication boards to run policy at local level.

 

In the foreword to the report, Mr Paterson says he recognises that achieving OTF Status in England ‘will be a long haul’.

 

“However, it has been done under more difficult physical circumstances elsewhere in the world. I am confident that it is not beyond the wit of industry and government to achieve it for England on similar timescales. We will aim for England to be free of bTB in 25 years. Our cattle industry and countryside deserve no less.”

 

Launching the strategy Mr Paterson said: “28,000 otherwise healthy cattle were slaughtered last year because of bovine TB.  Today we start a countdown towards an England free from this terrible disease. We must stop bTB spreading into previously unaffected areas while bringing it under control in places where it has taken hold.  I have visited Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA and we must learn from their successful TB eradication programmes.

 

“Bovine TB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK.  It threatens our cattle farmers’ livelihoods and our farming industry as well as the health of wildlife and livestock. We must all work together to become TB free within 25 years. ”

 

Farming Minister David Heath said the ‘comprehensive’ strategy laid the framework for eradicating TB within 25 years but stressed that the document proposes policy options for discussion. He said the Government had not made final decisions on a number of these policy areas.

A NEW REGIONAL TB STRATEGY

 

The strategy sets out a range of policy options, to be consulted on over the summer, aimed at making the whole of England TB free in 25 years. These include:

 

ACROSS ALL AREAS

 

Risk-based trading: Ultimately through a database providing information for buyers about the TB risks associated with herds for buyers.

In short-term, farmers to provide data at point of sale and ith AHVLA to produce ‘TB risk rating of every herd in the country. A voluntary policy but mandatory option in reserve.

 

Cutting TB compensation: Compensation will be reviewed to ‘reward risk-reduction and penalise risky practices’. Options include farmers to be only paid ‘salvage value’ for reactors brought into TB herds or in the Low Risk Area from High Risk Area.

 

Another is to pay compensation above salvage value only to farmers who join a privately funded assurance scheme, audited by Government, to demonstrate best practice on biosecurity.

 

Improving compliance with TB rules: The strategy proposes better guidance and tougher enforcement and penalties, for example, through cross compliance fines to ensure farmers comply with biosecurity measures.

 

Tackling bTB in non-bovine species: Options includes a possible registration and identification scheme for camelids. 

 

LOW RISK AREA (LRA)

 

Areas in the north and east of the country where bTB tends to result from infected cattle that have been brought in from other parts of the UK. The key objective is to move towards OTF  status (reducing the TB control burden and making it easier to trade with other OTF areas) in counties that have maintained a very low disease levels over a six-year period.

 

Policy options include:

  • Compulsory post-movement testing of cattle moved from the HRA (except to slaughter)
  • Establish voluntary local eradication boards to coordinate TB control in the area.
  • Sricter biosecurity conditions for Assured Finishing Units that introduce large numbers of cattle from the HR
  • Reduce exemptions to pre-movement testing from higher risk herds
  • Additional surveillance testing for herds regularly importing stock from the HRA
  • Enhanced slaughterhouse surveillance by monitoring slaughterhouse performance

EDGE AREA

 

The ‘advancing disease fronts’ between the High and Low Risk Areas. Priorities including finding where and how disease is spreading and ‘stamping it out’ when it emerges, ‘working towards OTF status for infected counties. Policy options include:

  • Enhanced epidemiological investigations for bTB breakdowns
  • Encouragement for local badger vaccination initiatives and targeted, risk-based surveillance for M. bovis in badgers
  • Enhanced slaughterhouse surveillance
  • Additional surveillance in a 3km radius around TB breakdowns, with six- month follow-up testing of clear herds
  • Mandatory interferon gamma  testing in new breakdowns
  • Check testing at severe interpretation of OTFS breakdowns six and 12 months after restrictions are lifted
  • Remove CTS links between holdings in the Edge Area and holdings in the High Risk Area

HIGH RISK AREA

 

The South West and West Midlands plus an area in East Sussex. The aim is to address the wildlife reservoir and strengthen cattle controls to move to OTF status within 25 years.

  • Wider roll out of badger culling subject to successful pilot culls
  • Enhanced use of depopulation and controlled restocking of herds with on-going and recurring breakdowns
  • Local eradication strategies with measures to identify and address the most likely causes of recurrent or persistent breakdowns
  • More sensitive cattle regimes where badger infection is controlled, such as interferon gamma test in all OTFW breakdowns
  • Extend time between short interval tests and/or do not allow the short interval test to be used as a pre-movement test
  • Deploy cattle and oral badger vaccination as soon as vaccine available.
  • DEVELOPING NEW TOOLS
  • The Strategy lays out plans to support the development of new tools such as diagnostic tests, including PCR, vaccination and badger population control methods, including a potential investigation into gassing setts.

GOVERNANCE AND FUNDING

  • Options for an ‘enhanced partnership approach’ covering governance, funding and delivery of TB control include:
  • Development of an industry-led body to assume to deliver TB control.
  • Re-tendering TB reactor salvage contracts to maximise returns, as compensations payments are cut.
  • Introduce  more competition for bTB testing, including extending use of lay TB testers.
  • Farmers paying more for TB measures like testing and vaccination.
  • Developing insurance options for compensation.
  • Establishing a mutual bTB control fund co-financed by Government and industry to cover the cost of controls and compensation, with ‘other stakeholders’ potentially funding vaccination.

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