15/12/2005

New measures announced to tackle bovine TB

The government has announced new measures to tackle bovine TB in cattle in England.

The measures include the introduction of a requirement for pre-movement testing in cattle and a 12-week consultation on badger culling, as well as the introduction of a new compensation scheme.

Bovine tuberculosis is a serious infectious disease, which also affects wildlife and poses a low health risk to humans. It has been increasing at a rate of 18% per year.

The announcement follows the publication yesterday of interim findings from the government’s badger culling trials.

A Defra-funded study found that widespread badger culling had positive and negative effects. Scientists found that widespread culling of badgers caused a 19% reduction in the incidence of cattle TB in the areas culled, but also led to a 29% increase of TB in surrounding areas. They suggested that the remaining badgers roaming more widely caused the increase.

One of the report’s authors, Professor Christl Donnelly from Imperial College London, said: “The fact that widespread culling has both simultaneous negative and positive effects could have important implications for policies to control TB in cattle. Although we believe very large culling areas would act to reduce TB, it is not clear whether this would prove economically and environmentally sustainable.”

The consultation paper will seek views on three potential options that could be used if badger culling was introduced: individual licensing; a targeted cull over specific areas linked to the incidence of TB in cattle herds; and a general cull over larger areas of high TB incidence.

Animal Health and Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw said: “Experience from around the world shows that strict cattle controls are essential if TB is to be contained and eradicated. But it also shows that it is unlikely to be successful unless in addition action is taken to deal with the disease in wildlife. In this country the main wildlife reservoir is in badgers.

“Recent research has shown that culling badgers in hotspot areas can help reduce the disease. But there is still enough scientific uncertainty - in particular about different culling strategies - to make it important to consult on the principle as well as the method of badger controls.

“Pre-movement testing is clearly necessary - particularly if we are to prevent further spread to most of the country which is TB free.”

The government will also continue to investigate the development of vaccines for cattle and badgers, as well as extend the use of the gamma interferon test as an adjunct to the skin test in order to improve diagnosis of the disease.”

(KMcA/SP)

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