Environment Secretary Owen Paterson yesterday announced a comprehensive strategy to achieve TB-free status in England by 2038.
This includes continuing to strengthen cattle movement controls, a grant-funded scheme for badger vaccination projects in the ‘edge area’ at the frontier of the disease, and improvements to the four-year badger cull pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Following recommendations from the Independent Expert Panel that assessed the badger cull pilots last year, a series of changes will be made to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling. These changes will be monitored to assess their impact before further decisions are taken on more badger cull licences next year.
Mr Paterson said: “The four-year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them. It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.
“Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery for many people in rural communities.”
He said that a new vaccine for cattle could be field-tested next year and his department would work on having an oral badger vaccine available for use by 2019.
“The scale of the problem is different across the country, so we will establish three bTB management regions known as the high risk area, low risk area and the edge area,” Mr Paterson added.
“A range of measures will be applied to control the disease within each zone according to the risk.”
Responding to the announcement, the NFU said farmers will be bitterly disappointed in the decision not to roll out badger culls.
President Meurig Raymond said: “The pilots were the first time that controlled shooting of badgers was used as a culling method and they were to test the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of this method.
“As pilots, there was always going to be the potential to make improvements as a result of knowledge gained.
“They have helped to gaina greater understanding of howwe can tackle the wildlife element of this terrible disease cycle.
“Importantly, the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) has found this method of culling badgers by controlled shooting can be safe with best practice followed, even with the presence of protesters.
“While we don’t agree with all of the assumptions made in the IEP report, and we are concerned it paints a picture that is not recognised by those on the ground, we will need to examine the report in more detail.
“TB remains a terrible disease for cattle and cattle farmers where it is persistent and high.
“Statistics released by Defra show there were 4,815 new herds infected with TB in 2013 in Great Britain, with 32,620 cattle slaughtered in an attempt to control the disease.”