As you may be aware, we are taking steps to stop the spread of bovine TB in England, Following on from the effective badger cull in 2019, Natural England has now licensed a new area to undertake culling in 2020, in and around our area.
The publication of the Government’s response to the Godfray Review, earlier this year set out the Government’s ‘exit strategy’ from culling and the new measures that we intend to implement. The Government has three key priorities: development of an effective cattle vaccine, continuing to manage the risk of disease in badgers and improving our measures to protect cattle.
Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. The UK’s bovine TB eradication strategy is founded in science. It applies the lessons of previous attempts to control the disease, as well as evidence from other countries around the world. This strategy includes a policy of regular testing and removal of infected cattle from herds, as well as tougher restrictions on cattle movements from herds at risk of infection and measures to encourage greater risk management in areas where the disease is rife.
Devastatingly, around 30,000 cattle must be slaughtered annually due to TB infection. Our cattle breeders suffer the loss of valued herds and prize-winning animals and this loss creates considerable trauma across the farming industry. This has an impact on the viability of our farms and therefore our food supplies, which is a food security issue, as well as the mental health of our farmers.
I for one hate the thought of killing any animal, however, badgers, unfortunately, cause vast destruction and devastation to our countryside in a number of ways, including the ruin of hedgerows and fields, killing of other animals (especially hedgehogs) and the spread of Bovine TB. The badger has also lost its natural predator which means its numbers have just kept on growing. The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease and remains a necessary and important part of its control until we have viable alternatives.
The badger is a protected species and I for one want to be able to end the cull once we can protect our countryside. The Government remains committed to achieving the long-term goal of eradicating Bovine TB in England by 2038. We are accelerating work on field trials of a BCG vaccine for use in cattle, alongside a test that can differentiate between vaccinated cattle and those with the disease. A recent field trial in New Zealand using the BCG vaccine suggested an overall efficacy of over 80%. Although vaccination may not be able to provide full protection, the Government is confident it would be a powerful new tool to combat the disease.
Finally, the Government is transitioning away from intensive badger culling, while ensuring that it remains an option where the epidemiological evidence supports it. The intention is to put in place a Government-funded badger vaccination scheme in at least one area where the four-year cull has ended in the hope that it will pave the way for expansion to additional areas. With this in mind I would expect that the vast majority of badger culling will have concluded by the mid-2020s.
I absolutely want to see an alternative to the cull, but at this point, we have no other option but to introduce a managed and short time-limited cull to help better protect our countryside and our cattle.