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BVA welcomes new bovine TB control plans but sounds note of caution

British Veterinary Association

3 min read Partner content

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has welcomed the Government’s latest plans to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in England by 2038 but cautioned that any new proposals must be underpinned by robust scientific evidence.

BVA’s statement comes as Defra launched a new consultation on the next phase of the Government’s bTB strategy today (27 January 2021). The eight-week consultation seeks views on a range of proposals following the Government’s response to the Godfray report.

These include plans to phase out intensive badger culling through the following steps:

  • Stopping issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022,
  • Potentially reducing the duration of culling licences to two or three years
  • Restricting new supplementary cull licences to two years and not reissuing them afterwards,
  • Supporting badger vaccination in areas that have completed culls as an alternative to supplementary culling.

The consultation will also seek views on further improvements to the testing regime to root out bTB more effectively, with the targeted deployment of more sensitive gamma interferon testing for surveillance.

Responding to the consultation announcement, BVA President James Russell said:

“BVA has consistently advocated for an approach that uses all the tools in the toolbox to tackle this insidious disease, and we welcome progress on new tools and measures such as a viable cattle vaccine. Farmers, vets and the Government have put in enormous effort over the years to control bovine TB, but it’s essential that any next steps are evidence based before any of the proven tools are phased out. 

“While the vaccination of badgers reduces the severity and progression of bTB in badgers, its effect on cattle bTB incidence remains uncertain. We would like to see prioritisation of research to evaluate the impact of badger vaccination on cattle as part of any ‘exit strategy’ from intensive badger culling.”

Alongside the consultation document, Defra has issued a call for views on possible future measures to accelerate bTB eradication in England, such as further improvements to testing, encouraging increased uptake of farm biosecurity measures and supporting responsible cattle movements.

Mr Russell added:

“We believe behavioural science should be at the heart of any bTB policy, so we fully support the approach of informing, advising and incentivising the uptake of good biosecurity practices on farm.

“Steps to tackle bovine TB going forward must centre on empowering vets and farmers by supporting their pivotal relationship, through better and more timely data sharing and more autonomy for vets and farmers to deploy available tools.

“We recognise the importance of government, farmers and vets working together so it’s essential that the Government listens to the views of the profession and industry in planning the next phase. We will be responding to the consultation after seeking views from our members.”

BVA’s new policy position on bTB, launched in July 2020, draws on behavioural science to set out a comprehensive approach to tackling the disease across the UK and proposes 35 wide-ranging recommendations.

BVA’s policy position on bovine TB can be viewed here.

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