Bovine TB (bTB) has plagued UK farming for decades and despite gargantuan efforts by industry and Government to control it, the disease has continued to spread.
Not only is bTB a threat to cattle farmers’ livelihoods and the health and welfare of livestock and wildlife, but it destroys breeding lines, impacts trade and in some cases, tears families apart.
Once a disease isolated to small pockets of the country – the percentage of cattle reacting to the TB skin test in Britain reached its lowest between 1977 and 1987 - it has now spread extensively through the west of England and Wales and is seen as the enemy at the gates in Scotland.
Since 2001, more than 650,000 cattle have been slaughtered, costing the industry and taxpayers more than £500 million.
Since 2013, more than 34,000 badgers have been removed in an attempt to stem the disease spread.
But with uncertainty surrounding the European Union’s €30 million contribution towards tackling bTB and against an uncertain political backdrop in the UK, question marks loom over the Government’s 25-year strategy and its tools to fight the disease.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters, who has had first-hand experience of the disease on her farm in Wiltshire, said any strategy must be underpinned by a ‘strong political will to deal with the disease in the round’.
“Getting on top of TB requires bold political leadership at every level,” adding campaigners’ growing pressure on the Conservatives to halt the badger cull was ‘concerning’.
“We have had to accept that bringing this disease under control is going to be painful and it is going to be costly.
“But the more we can take politics out of this and have it as business as usual, the better.
What is certain is the sector’s determination to stamp out bTB for good."
And the industry has made great strides in recent years.
Tighter cattle controls, enhanced biosecurity measures, stricter surveillance and new badger cull areas have recently come into force and have produced some positive results.
But while the industry has made some headway in getting the disease under control, there is no doubt there is still a long road ahead.
Farmers Guardian’s TB special: What to expect
Farmers Guardian’s special series aims to reappraise bovine TB (bTB) and the approach being taken to tackling the disease.
Running over several weeks and with expert commentary from key industry stakeholders, it will assess the role of farmers and the wider industry, look at new developments in science and research, detail how control methods differ around the UK and attempt to debunk some of the myths surrounding bTB.
The series will also cover:
The TB Advisory Service has been established to provide bespoke advice to cattle farmers in the High Risk and Edge Areas of England on measures which can be taken to help reduce the risk and impact of bTB.
The service, fully funded through the Rural Development Programme for England, will deliver: