The battle against bovine TB continues, with new surveillance and movement controls coming into force. Despite the controversial badger cull being postponed until summer 2013, the Government remains "absolutely committed" to its policy.
Badger cull postponed
The NFU took the difficult decision back in October to request that the pilot badger culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire should be postponed until summer 2013. Peter Kendal has written to all the NFU members explaining the decision. It appears the main issue was the difficulty of completing the six week continuous cull before the closed season took effect. The police had requested that the cull be delayed until after the Olympics and Paralympics, further delays were then imposed due to the legal challenges from the Badger Trust, and on top of this farmers were put under pressure during summer 2012 due to the extreme weather conditions.
In addition to these delays the latest surveys have revealed there are significantly more badgers within the pilot areas than originally thought. Since at least 70% of the badgers in an area must be removed in order to ensure the cull reduces TB in cattle, those responsible for the cull could not be confident that it would be possible to hit this target given the lateness of the season. Therefore, the directors of the companies co-ordinating the cull, along with the NFU, decided to postpone the cull until as early as possible next year and duly made this request to Defra.
There is some concern that this delay may eventually result in a cancellation as it provides more time for campaigners to exert pressure. However, in a statement to the House of Commons on 23 October 2012 the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, emphasised that there was no change in government policy and that it remained "absolutely committed" and would continue to work with the NFU to get the delivery of the policy right.
New surveillance and movement controls introduced
Although the badger cull has been postponed, new surveillance and movement rules continue to be introduced as part of the package to try and eradicate the disease. On 1 January 2013 new rules with the aim of reducing the spread of bovine TB between cattle came into force. The measures include changes to the TB surveillance testing regime and to the TB cattle movement controls.
Under the new rules, the surveillance testing has been altered so that England is divided into two cattle TB testing frequency areas – annual and four-yearly. There are no two and three-yearly testing intervals as from 1 January 2013 and TB testing intervals for cattle will be determined on a county basis rather than by parishes.
From 1 January, in addition to the counties currently on annual testing* the following counties were placed on annual TB testing:
- East Sussex.
Defra's reasoning for extending the annual testing frequency is that evidence shows there has been a continued spread of the endemic TB areas from the South and South West towards the North and East of England and there is the requirement to keep ahead of the 'disease front'. The move to a county basis rather than by parish also makes the UK compliant with EU law and will help to ensure the much needed EU co-financing stays in place.
Furthermore, TB surveillance around breakdowns in four-yearly areas will be enhanced. Herds within 3km will require an immediate skin test, with a follow up six months later and, if negative, 12 months after that. However, these herds (if they remain negative) should see their routine TB testing intervals return to four-yearly testing more quickly than under the old parish-based system. Also, individual high-risk cattle herds, such as bull hire herds, heifer rearing herds, producer-retailers of raw drinking milk and those who regularly purchase cattle from high incidence countries or counties in England and Wales will remain on annual testing even where they are located in a four-yearly testing area (as currently). Cattle keepers were notified of their testing interval and herd testing interval via the usual statement in late November/ December.
What this means for keepers is that those within the annual testing areas will need to have a pre-movement test before moving cattle. This includes those higher risk herds in the four-yearly testing areas. Cattle tracing system links will only be allowed between holdings within the same testing frequency (either annual or four-yearly). This is probably less of a problem now with the move to county intervals unless the holding is near a county border.
In addition to the new surveillance testing rules, from 1 January 2013, the following changes were made to the cattle movement controls.
- Re-stocking of 'officially TB free status suspended' herds will only be allowed after the herd has completed its first post-breakdown test and subject to a satisfactory veterinary risk assessment (this is in-line with 'officially TB free status withdrawn' herds).
- The movement window for cattle from TB restricted herds will be reduced from 60 to 30 days from their last clear test unless moving direct to slaughter or to an approved finishing unit in which case it will remain at 60 days.
- No new approved quarantine units (AQU) will be allowed and existing ones will be phased out. From 1 January 2013 existing AQUs are not allowed to restock.
- Approved finishing units found breaching their operating conditions could see their licences removed.
* The following counties were already subject to annual TB testing: Avon, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
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