New figures showing a 10 per cent annual increase in cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB (bTB) have reinforced the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the disease, according to industry leaders.
More than 36,000 cattle were slaughtered across Great Britain in 2015, with big increases recorded in Wales, where slaughterings were up 27 per cent despite a reduction in new herd incidents, prompting fresh calls for a badger cull policy.
There was also a big increase in England’s High Risk Area (HRA), where slaughterings were up 9 per cent, although there were falls in the number of cattle culled in England’s Edge and Low Risk Areas (LRA) and in Scotland.
While the overall GB figure marks a significant increase on the previous two years, the scale of the increase in Wales, where more than 8,000 cattle were culled last year, compared with in the region of 6,000 in 2013 and 2014, has set alarm bells ringing.
In its manifesto ahead of May’s Welsh elections, NFU Cymru called for a TB eradication strategy which ‘actively removes the disease from the badger population as well as from cattle’.
NFU Cymru president Stephen James said the figures confirmed the policy of vaccinating badgers in endemic areas of north Pembrokeshire for the past four years had not produced any benefits in terms of disease control.
“The annual testing policy in Wales meant they got on top of the disease for a while but that advantage has now been lost,” he said.
He said the vaccination was put in place in recognition of the fact that something needed to be done to address disease in badgers.
With TB vaccination now suspended due to a shortage of vaccine, he added: “We are now pushing all candidates, particularly the Labour group, to introduce a culling policy.”
In England, new cattle TB measures are due to come into force next month, including compulsory post-movement testing in the LRA and stricter conditions for regaining disease free status in the HRA, while a number of new areas are seeking badger cull licences this year.
Last year, culling took place in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said the 2015 figures brought the total number of cattle slaughtered in England since 2008 to nearly 215,000.
She said: “These figures make sombre reading for anyone who is fighting a daily battle against bovine TB or has experienced the devastation it can cause to a farming family business.
“It reinforces the need for the Government’s 25-year TB eradication strategy to be implemented in full as quickly as possible.
“We have always said all available options need to be used – cattle movement controls, cattle testing and biosecurity all have a role to play. But dealing with the disease reservoir in wildlife in areas where it is endemic is a vital part of the strategy.”
She welcomed Defra Secretary Liz Truss’ commitment to rolling out the badger cull. Defra revealed recently 29 new areas had expressed an interest in obtaining badger cull licences, from Cornwall to Cheshire.
"The fact so many areas have expressed an interest not only shows that farmers and landowners support the policy, it also shows how widespread the bTB problem is and how urgently it needs to be dealt with," Mrs Batters said.
A Defra spokesman said: “England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries.”
"This includes tighter cattle measures, improved biosecurity and badger control in areas where the disease is rife.
"Our approach of dealing with the disease in cattle and wildlife has worked overseas and is supported by the Government and Defra chief scientists and leading vets."
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "The latest Tb statistics 'continue to show an improving situation across Wales over the past six years, demonstrating the successes of our Eradication Programme.
“While there has been an increase in the number of cattle slaughtered in Wales in the latest period, the number of new TB incidents in the same period has decreased.
"The increased number of reactors identified is in part due to the increased intensity of testing in breakdown herds.
"This approach is aimed at identifying and removing infected cattle as early as possible, and increased numbers of reactors is to be expected.
“Everyone has a role to play in tackling the spread of bovine Tb, the farmer, the veterinary profession and Welsh Government.
"We continue to implement a broad rage of policy measures introduced over the last 6 years, including, earlier detection of disease through increased testing and including reducing the number of overdue tests, removal of pre-movement testing exemptions and measures to deal with persistent breakdowns to clear the disease as thoroughly and quickly as possible.’’
Defra’s quarterly TB figures, published on Wednesday, provide a number of measures of TB trends across Great Britain.