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Owen Paterson. Photo: Jamie Grey via Flickr.com.
Owen Paterson. Photo: Jamie Grey via Flickr.com.
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Badger cull will resume - but no new areas

Owen Paterson

3rd April 2014

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told Parliament today that the badger cull will continue - and with no independent scientific oversight. However it will not move to new areas. Here we reproduce his full statement to the House of Commons.

Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that is devastating our cattle and dairy industries, and causing misery for many people in rural communities.

Today I am publishing the Government's strategy for achieving officially TB-free status for England. This disease is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK, and the crisis facing our cattle farmers, their families and communities cannot be overstated.

It is a devastating zoonosis that threatens our cattle industry and presents risks to other livestock and wildlife species such as badgers, domestic pets and humans.

In 1979 only 0.01% of British cattle tested as infected. The disease has now spread extensively from infected pockets in the south-west, and the number of new herd breakdowns has doubled every nine years. In the last decade we have slaughtered 314,000 otherwise healthy cattle across Great Britain in our attempt to control the disease.

In 2013 more than 6.2 million TB tests were performed in England leading to the slaughter of 26,603 cattle. One quarter of herds in the south-west and the west midlands were placed under movement restrictions at some point, and in the last decade the issue has cost the taxpayer £500 million.

If we do not control TB, the bill will rise to £1 billion over the next decade. It is vital that farmers, vets, non-governmental organisations and politicians work together to free England of TB. The value of this industry is £6.6 billion, and we want to ensure a thriving cattle sector that maintains our countryside, trades internationally and delivers economic growth.

The current surveillance and control scheme is based on the traditional approach applied across Europe: routine skin testing of cattle, removal and slaughter of test reactors combined with post-mortem surveillance at slaughter, and movement controls placed on infected herds.

In the absence of a major wildlife reservoir, that approach has been successful in allowing many EU countries and regions to achieve officially TB-free status. The same approach has reduced the spread of the disease in areas where TB is established, but on its own that is not enough.

Where there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife, tackling TB will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. We are clear that culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment.

I intend to pursue policies that will reverse the trend well before the end of this decade, so we need a control and eradication strategy with these clear aims at its heart. It must be dynamic, tailored to the sources of disease and the potential for eliminating it. It must adapt as new tools become available.

We must learn the lessons from countries that have succeeded in tackling TB where there has been a reservoir of the disease in wildlife. I have visited Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA.

The vital lesson I have taken from these countries is the importance of stringent cattle control measures in combination with tackling the primary wildlife reservoir. Their programmes are either led by industry, or delivered by industry and Government working in partnership, with both parties contributing to the cost.

We will need to adapt and apply the key elements of others' eradication strategies to our countryside. However, the common thread is the sustained application of a control programme that addresses infection in cattle and wildlife.

We already have a robust package of cattle measures, which we have steadily strengthened since 2011. Herds in high-risk areas, and on the edges of those areas, must be tested annually; herds in low-risk areas must be tested every four years.

We also have slaughterhouse surveillance. Cattle moving from annual testing herds must be tested before they are moved. Where we find TB, we shut down the herd, slaughter the reactor cattle and carry out intensive testing in the herd and the surrounding herds. We continue to tighten our cattle measures.

This year, we have reduced subsidy payments for farmers with overdue TB tests, enhanced measures for dealing with persistent breakdowns, and we recently announced a further tightening of pre-movement testing rules as well as new powers to slaughter cattle that cannot be tested.

For the first time our strategy brings together all the tools we need to tackle the disease, including those currently available and those in development, such as a cattle vaccine. It sets targets by which we can measure progress towards achieving officially TB-free status.

The strategy will simply not work without addressing the reservoir of TB infection in badgers. The option of using injectable badger vaccine has been available since 2010. However, the evidence shows that about a third of badgers in TB hotspot areas are infected. The vaccine does not cure them and they continue to spread the disease.

We have some evidence that the vaccine provides protection to a proportion of uninfected badgers, but the vaccination needs to be repeated annually, and this presents many practical problems. However, while the injectable vaccine is far from perfect, it may help protect uninfected badgers away from the TB hotspots.

That is why I am proposing a scheme for vaccination projects around the edge of the most badly affected parts of the country, in an attempt to create a buffer zone of TB immunity to stop the disease spreading further.

The first year of two four-year culls took place in Gloucestershire and Somerset last autumn. These were pilots designed to test whether the controlled shooting of free-ranging badgers is safe, humane and effective. An independent panel of experts was appointed to assess the pilots. I am extremely grateful for their work.

I have today placed the panel's report, our response to it and our broader strategy in the Library of the House. We have always been clear that there would be lessons to be learned from the first year of these four-year culls. Having read and considered the report, we shall now work to implement the panel's recommendations.

The panel is confident that controlled shooting, when carried out in accordance with best practice guidance, poses no threat to public safety, even in the presence of local protest. This is an appropriate point to put on record my thanks to the cull companies and contractors who put so much effort into the culls. They went out night after night to battle TB, often in dreadful conditions, and often facing disgraceful intimidation from some of the more extreme protesters.

The pilots showed that, in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death. The panel made a number of key recommendations for improving the overall standards of accuracy and field craft of contractors, including training and assessment. I accept these recommendations and we are working to implement them with Natural England and the cull companies.

On effectiveness, we already know from the figures we made public last year that the culls did not make as much progress as we hoped. This is confirmed by the independent expert panel, which has given its views on why this might have happened.

Three of the 10 areas in the badger culling trials between 1998 and 2005 also got off to a slow start, but by the end of the trial they had contributed to a reduction in TB. That is what we expect to happen here, especially after the panel's recommendations for improving the effectiveness of culling are put into action.

The second year of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset will start with the panel's recommended improvements in place. We will work with Natural England and the industry to implement the changes. The cull companies will adapt their operational plans to ensure better consistency of coverage in the cull areas.

They will incorporate more extensive training and real-time monitoring of cull effectiveness and humaneness by Natural England. We know that there are many farming communities in other parts of England that want badger culls to help combat TB. I hope they will understand that we need to put these changes into practice before we roll out the culling programme to other areas.

I am also announcing a trial of a comprehensive farm-level risk management programme throughout the cull areas over the next three years. This will be available to all farmers, providing bespoke assessments and advice on how to protect their cattle.

I am keen to develop new techniques to support the strategy. Over this Parliament, we are investing £24.6 million in the development of effective TB vaccines for cattle and badgers. Our scientists are leading the world in the development of a deployable cattle vaccine.

In 2013, I agreed with the European Commissioner the work that was needed to develop a viable cattle vaccine. We are designing the large-scale field trials necessary to take this forward. I am committed to meeting the earliest deadline for its implementation, but the need for the field trials and required legislative changes means that a usable cattle vaccine is still many years away.

In the future, an oral badger vaccine might address some of the problems of injectable vaccine deployment and serve as a targeted control measure. Some progress has been made, but we do not yet have an oral badger vaccine that is effective.

We are also stepping up investment in the development of improved diagnostic tests such as DNA-based technologies, so that we can deploy a targeted approach to identify and remove TB-infected badgers only.

The strategy recognises that achieving officially TB-free status for England will be a long haul. I am confident, however, that it is not beyond industry and Government working in partnership to achieve it for England in the time scales we envisage. My aim is for England to be free of TB by 2038, with healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers.

The four-year culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset are pilots, and we always said we would learn lessons from them. It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.

Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that is devastating our cattle and dairy industries, and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our strategy, to make England TB-free. I commend this statement to the House.

 


 

Hansard permalink to Parterson's speech and following questions and answers.

 

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