The government’s current method of controlling bovine tuberculosis, that of surveillance, testing and slaughter, is not working effectively, a committee of MPs has reported.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee concluded in its report, published on Wednesday (27 February), that tough measures, designed to tackle the disease in all sanctuaries, will be needed if DEFRA is to make positive progress in addressing the situation.

In the report the EFRA committee said: “Cattle TB is an infectious disease that is one of the most serious animal health problems in Great Britain today. The number of infected cattle has been doubling every four and a half years.

“The consequential growing cost of the disease to the taxpayer and to the farming industry is unsustainable. In ‘hot spot’ areas where the prevalence of the disease is highest, the farming industry has reached a breaking point as the disruption to business in both human and economic terms has become unacceptable.

“The final straw for many farmers has proved to be the introduction of a new system of valuations for their slaughtered cattle which has proved inequitable in many cases.”

The committee’s conclusion is that there is no simple solution that will control bovine TB.  The government must, therefore, adopt a multi-faceted approach to tackling the disease, using all available methods, says the committee.

It advises that a future strategy should include:

• more frequent cattle testing, with more frequent and targeted combined use of the tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon test;
• the evaluation of post-movement cattle testing;
• greater communication with farmers on the benefits of biosecurity measures;
• the deployment of badger and cattle vaccines when they become available in the
future; and
• continued work on the epidemiology of the disease.

The Committee recognises that under certain well-defined circumstances it is possible that culling could make a contribution towards the reduction in incidence of cattle TB in hot-spot areas.

However, as there is a significant risk that any patchy, disorganised or short-term culling could make matters worse, the committee could only recommend the licensed culling of badgers under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 if the applicants are able to demonstrate that culling would be carried out in accordance with the conditions agreed between the Independent Scientific Group and the former chief scientific adviser David King.

These indicated that there might be an overall beneficial effect if culling were to be:
• done competently and efficiently;
• coordinated;
• over as large an area as possible (265km² or more is the minimum needed to be
95% confident of an overall beneficial effect);
• be sustained for at least four years; and
• be in areas which have “hard” or “soft” boundaries
 
Unless these requirements can be demonstrated the MP’s advise that no application for a licence should be approved by Natural England, the body with statutory responsibility for the granting of culling licences.

Any cull must also be properly monitored by DEFRA and the MPs consider it unlikely that such culling would be sanctionable in more than a limited number of areas.

Commenting on the report, EFRA committee chairman Michael Jack said: “This is a complex issue and there is no simple solution. But I am pleased that the report represents the unanimous view of the committee.”

 For farmer reaction to the report and its contents or to comment on the report visit the FWi forums by clicking here