The latest TB incidence figures make for sobering reading. More than 38,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered in Great Britain in 2012 (over 28,000 in England alone). That’s almost a 10% increase on 2011. As farmers across England and Wales have been warning for many years, this is a disease that is rapidly becoming out of control.
This matters to the food industry not merely because of the stress and emotional heartache it places on farming families whose livelihoods have been devastated by TB. Or the continued suffering of cattle and badgers from TB as it continues to spread across the country. Or the ever-growing cost to the taxpayer.
No, the primary reason it matters to the food industry is that it threatens the future of our supply of milk and beef in what should be some of the best areas in Europe for their production. It’s a complete waste of potential and a very real risk to security of supply as consumers demand more British and local meat and dairy products.
“This is a war on TB as a disease, not a war on any single species”
No single solution will stem the spread of the disease and ultimately eradicate TB. A comprehensive package of measures is needed. At the moment the government’s approach is based purely on cattle measures: testing for and culling of infected cattle and ever-tighter movement controls. Without further measures that include attempts to tackle the disease in wildlife, we will not get a grip on the disease.
No-one disputes the emotiveness of badger culling. But there are certain facts we must all face: badgers carry and spread TB doing nothing about the disease in badgers is not an option targeted culling of badgers in heavily infected areas will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle and contrary to remarks made by some anti-cull campaigners, badger control will not take place in those parts of the country that are free of TB.
The point of the two badger control pilots this summer is to test the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of a control method before it is deployed more widely.
Vaccination of badgers and cattle is held up by opponents as a ready-made alternative to culling. It is not. While vaccination of badgers may play a part in keeping healthy badgers free of TB, it can do nothing to help already infected badgers.
Also, the vaccine must be delivered by injection. Recent trials in Wales have shown this is costly and impractical given the sheer numbers (both financially and of badgers) involved. Finally, there is no vaccine that is legally licensed for use in cattle, and as the European Commission has made clear, one will not be available for use for at least 10 years. We cannot afford to wait.
The farming industry’s ultimate goal is to see healthy cattle and healthy badgers. This is a war on TB as a disease, not a war on any single species.
Recent weeks have shown the public wants supermarkets to support domestic farming by buying British and farmers who have bravely committed to taking part in pilots need to have the confidence that the whole food industry is behind them in tackling this disease. To learn more go to tbfreeengland.co.uk.
Tom Hind is NFU director of corporate affairs