Controlling the spread of bovine TB

Thank you for contacting me about controlling the spread of bovine TB.

Bovine TB is one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK. It not only has a devastating impact on our beef and dairy farms, carrying both financial cost and emotional cost to farmers, who often find it very distressing to have TB identified amongst their stock, but Bovine TB also costs taxpayers over £100 million each year.

In 2018, 45,000 cattle were destroyed because of TB; in 2005, it was fewer than 30,000; some of the highest incidents are in our bordering counties of Staffordshire and Cheshire.

Ministers are now delivering a 25-year strategy to eradicate this disease and protect the UK’s dairy and beef industries. This includes one of the world’s most rigorous cattle surveillance programmes, strong movement controls, promoting good biosecurity and badger control where the disease is rife.

In November 2018, a review of the Bovine TB Strategy for England was published. This review reflected on the progress which has been made in achieving the target of Officially Free status for England by 2038, and what further actions should be prioritised.

The report found, among other things, that industry must take greater responsibility for on-farm controls, biosecurity and safe trading practices to stop the disease spreading, and that more can be done to help farmers make purchasing decisions reflecting the risks of cattle being infected. It also recommended that a new independent body on disease control would be helpful to take over disease control operations from APHA, Natural England and local authorities.

Badgers are a significant reservoir for the disease and without taking action to control the disease in them, it will continue to spread. The disease is very unpleasant for the badgers as well as cattle, so there is an animal welfare aspect to this too. 

As part of a comprehensive strategic approach, culling continues to play an important role. Overseas experience in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland shows that to eradicate the disease, the problem must be tackled in both cattle and wildlife. Operations continue with new and supplementary licences issued in the High Risk areas of England, and in Low Risk Area of England in the rare event that disease in badgers is linked with infected herds, to prevent further spread.

I believe that all necessary measures must be used to eradicate this devastating disease, and I am pleased to note early success.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.