NFU Conference: TB Must Stay Top Priority for Competitiveness28 February 2013
UK - The biggest challenge currently facing cattle farmers is the battle against bovine tuberculosis, the successes of which will hugely alter the outlook of the competitiveness of the UK meat sector, writes Michael Priestley, TheCattleSite Editor.
This was the message of Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs while addressing the National Farmers Union Conference in Birmingham on Wednesday 27 February.
Over the last ten years bovine TB has cost the UK taxpayer £500 million. Mr Paterson said government predictions see this figure rising to £1 billion over the next decade, should the disease go unchecked.
Commenting on the link between badgers and the transmission of bovine TB, Mr Paterson stated that fifteen years of research has demonstrated that not only do badgers spread TB, but that culling badgers can lead to disease reductions in cattle.
“We must learn from the experience of other countries which shows that TB in cattle cannot be controlled without also bearing down on the surrounding wildlife population.”
“In New Zealand the number of infected cattle and deer herds had been reduced from 1,700 in the mid 1990’s to fewer than 100 in 2011," added Mr Paterson.
Through rigorous biosecurity, strict cattle movement controls and proactive wildlife management, Mr Paterson said the US, Australia, Republic of Ireland and New Zealand had successfully combatted TB.
The secretary of state revealed today's (Wednesday) confirmation from Natural England that the badger cull areas in Gloucestershire and Somerset have met final licensing conditions.
The size and location of a third cull area in Dorset is currently being considered by the NFU who are committed to culls taking place, ensuring against setbacks.
Badger and cattle vaccines alongside stringent livestock movements, revamped in January, are also important for beating TB, stated Mr Paterson.
“The EU Commissioner, Tonio Borg, made clear to me when we met in January, no one has done more in this area than the UK. Despite this it’s likely to take a further ten years before all procedures for the deployment of a validated and legal cattle vaccine.”
“We’ve started on the programme of action that the Commissioner has requested but there will be no shortcuts. That’s why going ahead with pilot culls is so important,” concluded Mr Paterson.
Peter Kendall, NFU President said TB does more than damage herd health and farm finances. The county’s food production base is hindered as well.
“If anyone thinks TB doesn’t really count; almost 35,000 cattle slaughtered because of the disease in the first 11 months of 2012 which is 4,000 more than the year before,” said Mr Kendall.
“After the difficult decision not to proceed with the pilot culls last autumn, it would be easy for a Secretary of State to let TB slip down the agenda.”
Mr Kendall praised the government for maintaining the TB drive as all efforts were vital to combat the destructive disease.