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Another bundle on bovine TB

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LAST year, the Government issued a whole raft of policy documents on bovine TB just as Parliament was about to break up for Christmas (VR, January 2, 2016, vol 178, p 2). Earlier this week, it announced another bundle of measures aimed at eradicating the disease, on the morning immediately after the August bank holiday. Whether the timing around holidays is a result of accident or design is open to debate but, either way, its announcement this week did not go unnoticed, with plans to extend badger culling to new areas of England receiving widespread attention in the national press. Given the controversial nature of the culls, this was probably inevitable. However, extension of the badger culls was by no means the only measure announced by the Government this week. The tranche of information posted on its website on August 30 also included:

▪ A consultation document discussing plans for enhanced bovine TB surveillance and controls on cattle in the High Risk and Edge areas of England.

▪ A ‘call for views’ on proposals that the Government believes could improve and simplify the TB testing regime in the High Risk area.

▪ Plans for advice packs for farmers to help improve biosecurity on farms.

▪ News of an updated version of Defra's online tool for mapping the location of bovine TB incidents over the past five years to help farmers make informed decisions when buying livestock.

▪ A consultation document on further measures for controlling TB in pigs, sheep, goats, captive deer and South American camelids.

As far as badger culling is concerned, the Government announced that Natural England had granted seven additional licences for badger control measures in parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and that culling operations were underway. This is in addition to the licences granted for areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013, and Dorset in 2015. The information posted on the Government's website this week also included (redacted) copies of the authorisation letters issued by Natural England, a breakdown of the costs of controlling badgers in 2015, and value for money analyses for badger control policies in 2015 and 2016 (see pp 211-213 of this issue).

Regarding cattle, the consultation document on enhanced surveillance and controls includes proposals to increase the sensitivity of TB testing in breakdown herds in the High Risk area through wider and more structured use of the interferon-γ test, and to increase the sensitivity of skin testing of cattle traced from infected herds by applying a ‘severe’ interpretation of the skin test. For the Edge areas, proposals include redefining Edge area boundaries by incorporating all areas that currently straddle the High Risk and Edge areas of England completely into the Edge areas, and increasing the sensitivity of surveillance testing by extending six-monthly testing or radial testing to all parts of the Edge areas. The Government asks for comments on these and other changes proposed in the consultation document, which, it says, it is ‘minded to make’ over the coming 12 months. Meanwhile, in a separate call for views, it invites comments to help it decide whether to develop an alternative TB testing regime for cattle herds in the High Risk area. This would be risk-based and built around a default position of six-monthly routine testing until the disease situation improves in an area or herd. The Government acknowledges that this arrangement could add to the direct costs for herd owners, but suggests that it could prove more effective and simpler to operate in the longer term.

Commenting on the Government's announcement regarding badger culling this week, the British Cattle Veterinary Association said that it supported the use of badger culling to reduce the incidence and further spread of the disease in areas where there is evidence that badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the persistent presence of bovine TB. Responding to earlier press reports that the culls were to be extended, the BVA also expressed support for coordinated control measures in badgers as part of a comprehensive strategy to eradicate the disease, while reiterating its position that culling should be conducted using cage trapping and shooting only.

Taken together, the package of measures announced by the Government this week provides a further indication of its determination to press ahead with its long-term strategy for eradicating bovine TB in England using all the methods at its disposal, while continuing to develop and refine its approach. Given the multifaceted and interrelated nature of that strategy, it is maybe understandable that it should have again chosen to bundle a series of announcements together. However, an unfortunate consequence of this approach is that it means there is a lot for people to assimilate and comment on in a short space of time. Perhaps in future thought should be given to spreading out the various policy announcements so that each aspect can be given the attention it deserves.

▪ The package of measures announced by the Government this week is available at www.gov.uk/government/news/further-measures-to-eradicate-bovine-tb. Accessed August 30, 2016

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