Liz Truss, Defra secretary writes for Farmers Weekly on the government’s strategy to deal with bovine TB on farms in England.
Bovine TB is the biggest threat to the future of our beef and dairy industries. Dealing with the disease is costing the taxpayer £100m each year.
Last year alone more than 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England.
I have seen for myself by visiting affected herds and meeting groups of farmers how the disease is devastating our rural communities and placing huge pressures on families.
That’s why I am so determined to deliver on our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB.
Nearly three years on from the launch of our comprehensive strategy, which includes tighter cattle controls, better on-farm biosecurity and the culling of badgers where the disease is rife, I am pleased to be able to say that it is beginning to deliver results.
This year targets for badger removal to contribute to disease reduction were met in all areas – in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
Importantly, the chief vet has concluded “the outcome of this year’s culls indicate that industry-led culling can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease-control benefits”.
In fact, the latest evidence shows the rate of new TB cases is levelling off in the high-risk area and we are on track for the low-risk area – more than half of the country – to be declared officially free of the disease by 2019.
The confirmation of TB-free status will improve our international reputation, boost our trade prospects and deliver benefits worth millions of pounds to our beef and dairy industries.
The progress we are starting to see is in no small part down to the sheer dedication and professionalism of farmers and vets across the country.
However, it is those farmers in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset who have gone out night after night, often in the face of intimidation and harassment, who I would really like to pay tribute to.
It is their efforts that have seen the delivery of three successful, humane and effective culls this year and who are providing hope, not just to their local area, but to the industry as a whole.
As we have seen in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, it is only by controlling the disease in cattle and in wildlife that we will be able to truly beat this threat.
That’s why next year, as part of the implementation of our strategy, I want to see badger control across a wider number of areas.
This is in line with the chief vet’s advice that “the licensing of further cull areas would be necessary to realise disease control benefits at regional rather than at local levels” and alongside our continued commitment to tough cattle testing and movement controls.
The road to TB freedom is a long one, but if we are to have a successful and resilient industry, capitalising on the growing global reputation of British beef and dairy, we must remain resolute in our determination to tackle this disease.
We must remain committed to our 25-year strategy. This year shows what can be achieved. For the sake of the future of farming, we must build on it.