DEFRA has announced it will consult on the principle of a badger culling policy in bovine TB hotspots, as part of a new package of measures to tackle the disease.
But the government has also announced the introduction of a requirement for pre-movement testing to reduce the spread of bovine TB through movement of cattle.
This requirement will apply to cattle over 15 months of age moving out of 1 and 2 year tested herds.
DEFRA will also introduce a new compensation scheme which it claims will bring into line payments for bovine TB and three other cattle diseases.
It says this follows the findings of a number of independent reports showing serious overpayments under the current bovine TB compensation system.
Junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw said: “Bovine TB has reached crisis levels in some parts of the country.
“It causes great distress to farmers, leads to the costly slaughter of cattle and impacts on the health and welfare of wildlife.
“Experience from around the world shows that strict cattle controls are essential if TB is to be contained and eradicated.
“But it also shows that it is unlikely to be successful unless in addition action is taken to deal with the disease in wildlife. In this country the main wildlife reservoir is in badgers.
“Recent research has shown that culling badgers in hotspot areas can help reduce the disease. But there is still enough scientific uncertainty – in particular about different culling strategies – to make it important to consult on the principle as well as the method of badger controls.”
The consultation paper will seek views on three potential options that could be used should badger culling be introduced:
* Individual licensing;
* A targeted cull over specific areas linked to the incidence of TB in cattle herds;
* A general cull over larger areas of high TB incidence.
In addition to these measures, the government will continue to pursue the development of vaccines for cattle and badgers.
It will also extend the use of the gamma interferon test as an adjunct to the skin test in order to improve diagnosis of the disease.
DEFRA is also inviting applications for membership of a new independent stakeholder group to advise government on bovine TB policies.