TB testing© Tim Scrivener

The NFU has begun lobbying MPs for the creation of an independent bovine TB eradication board for England.

The proposal was included in a five-point action plan delivered by the union to MPs this week, which urges the government to drive forward its 25-year TB eradication strategy, published in April 2014.

MPs and peers met farmers and vets at Westminster on Tuesday (1 December) to hear first-hand the devastating effect the disease is having on family farming businesses.

See also: NFU demands independent body to help eradicate TB

Speaking after the event, NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: “Bovine TB remains a huge threat to beef and dairy farmers in large parts of the country and it is vital we do everything we can to tackle it.

“We remain hopeful of achieving a TB eradication board for England. We are getting strong vibes from minsters about this.

“We hope we will get a positive commitment from government to take TB away from the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England [AHWBE].”

Currently, the TB Eradication Advisory Group (TBEAG), a sub-group of the AHWBE, has overall responsibility for TB strategy.

But the NFU wants to rewrite the terms of reference and introduce an independent board of vets, farmers, scientists and civil servants that would make recommendations to ministers on its TB-eradication strategy.

Defra is also considering an NFU proposal to roll out a nationwide business advisory service for farmers struggling to cope with TB.

The South West TB Advisory Service has become a valuable service to farmers affected by TB in the South West.

It is understood that Defra agrees that rolling the service out more widely can help support the uptake of improved biosecurity measures – a key part of its TB strategy.

Ms Batters said ministers were considering an application to use farmers’ modulated money raised through the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) and matched by Defra.

“The application has received broad support and we are very hopeful we will achieve this,” added Ms Batters.

Thirdly, the NFU has called for the creation of an industry-led non-government body – Animal Health England – with the aim of improving the cattle health status of the country by tackling non-statutory diseases. Similar bodies have been established in other countries, including Ireland.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the NFU also urged MPs to

  • Support Defra’s comprehensive bovine TB eradication strategy
  • Use the latest scientific evidence to highlight the vital role of badger culling in dealing with the disease in areas where it is endemic
  • Help ensure that Defra’s spending cuts announced in the Spending Review do not compromise animal health.

The Westminster briefing, sponsored by Julian Sturdy, Conservative MP for York Outer, also marked the launch of a new quarterly newsletter for MPs. The truth about TB will document the devastating effect of the disease on farming family businesses and the need to tackle it on all fronts.