Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Industry 7 point plan

In the absence of any sign of such an elusive animal from Defra, the NFU has spearheaded an industry 'plan' to 'contain and eradicate' bovine tuberculosis from the wildlife and cattle herds and thus prevent its spillover into other mammalian species. It's framework covers a short but effective culling regime, followed by vaccination to protect incoming badgers, working in tandem with cattle testing and surveillance.

The Plan.

1. We are committed to doing everything possible to contain and eradicate bovine TB.

2. Industry participation in a badger culling programme can only be in the context of a genuine partnership with Government, involving their providing overt facilitation, mapping, monitoring, carcase disposal and other support.

3. In order to apply that principle in practice, we would recommend that TB Control Strategy Groups should be set up, aligned with DVM areas, involving farmers, vets, Animal Health and other stakeholders to determine overall strategy for their area, to advise on the delineation of control areas and facilitate the creation of local TB management groups.

4. Culling to be carried out by farmers and trained personnel engaged by TB management groups using all legally approved methods.

5. Culling to be authorised by licence issued by Natural England in accordance with guidelines set out by Defra on the basis of the findings of the ISG and related scientific advice. Timescale for the issue of licences should not be unreasonably protracted.

6. The industry and Government to work together to develop a “clear and protect” two stage strategy, that will move from area-based badger culling to reduce disease levels, followed, when available, by vaccination to protect re-populating badgers. This must work in parallel with appropriate cattle-based measures, based on sound economic principles and scientific evidence and advances, including consideration of the use of cattle vaccination accompanied by a reliable DIVA test on condition that export markets are not prejudiced.

7. We are committed to encouraging our respective members to co-operate in a culling strategy as outlined above, and in a programme of public information focused on the vital importance of controlling the disease.

The Statement was agreed by the NFU England and Wales, CLA, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, Holstein UK, RICS, NFU Cymru, Tenant Farmers Association, Livestock Auctioneeers Association, National Young Farmers Clubs, National Beef Association, Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and veterinary scientist, Dr. John Gallagher. Members of the British Veterinary Association and British Cattle Veterinary Association were present and approved the statement, but formal agreement by their organisations would have to be ratified by their Councils.

The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (VAWM) also support the proposal in principle, and have offered the following statement:

" The recent seven point plan put forward to the Secretary of State, Mr. Hilary Benn by the NFU and other interested parties is to be welcomed as a realistic framework for tackling the epidemic of bovine tuberculosis that is now affecting cattle and wildlife in large areas of south west England, the west Midlands and Wales.

The detail of how the plan is implemented will of course determine its success but we believe the concept of TB Control Strategy Groups that would devolve responsibility on the ground to local TB management groups represents a workable management plan. And we entirely agree with point 2 of the plan that “Industry participation in a badger culling programme can only be in the context of a genuine partnership with Government, involving their providing overt facilitation, mapping, monitoring, carcase disposal and other support.” We assume that this would include paying for the cost of the programme.

The methods of culling are not specified under point 4 but we would urge that daytime gassing underground is potentially the most effective method since it takes advantage of the ecological behaviour of the badger. It also obviates the problem of carcass disposal. Shooting at dusk with a silenced rifle also represents an effective and humane method of culling. We caution against live trapping and snaring both on humane and practical grounds.

The “clear and protect” two stage strategy (point 6), that will involve area-based badger culling followed by vaccination to protect re-populating badgers is an ambitious and potentially complex strategy. It will clearly depend on availability of both an effective vaccine and the means of delivery. But at the very least it should serve to reassure the public that farmers and vets seek not to eradicate the badger population but rather to achieve a healthy population and to bring numbers down to sustainable levels compatible with wildlife biodiversity.

Finally we do not believe that cattle vaccination should be seriously contemplated in the seven point plan. Even supposing an effective cattle vaccine became available, vaccination in the face of the huge weight of infection in the badger population would be against all the best principles of disease control. Furthermore if cattle vaccination was undertaken at some future date the industry would then become hooked into routine vaccination of the national herd with all the difficulties that this would bring for future testing and trade."

The only word of caution we would add, is that on past experience Government are rather good at fudging decisions, especially unpalatable ones they would rather not make. And the word 'contain' is what worries us. Contain TB? How?

But just this week we have seen snuck into Defra's February 'Farming Link' pamphlet, a gem of a problem in the making. And probably the first of many.
"Farmers are reminded that cattle subject to one or two yearly TB testing must be pre-movement tested when moving to and from both grass keep and linked holdings".

PreMT for linked holdings which happen to be several counties apart we can support, but grass lets? Testing cattle in the middle of a field? And what happens if they give an adverse reaction? Stuck there? Moved under license? Short tenancy land still under restriction for - how long? A can of worms.

And with the shopping list of cattle measures proposed by Professor Bourne, there's plenty more to go at.


Anonymous said...

Now that Defra have sacked all of their professional trappers, who will carry out this task ? The NFU must lobby Govt to re-instate the Wildlife Units and get them back in operating order asap ! In the whole scheme of things, the &7million per year that it costs to run the WLUs is mere pocket money.If the scheme is to be carried out with animal welfare in mind, be coordinated and last over 4 years, ONLY the Govt can do it by using professional staff. Right the NFU....time to do something positive and get the Govt to accept their financial responsibilities by funding the proposed culls. No time to waste either !

Matthew said...

Anon. 3.11

'Government' seems incredibly reluctant to accept any responsibility for - err anything at all, if that can be avoided.

Agree about the WLU. But the NFU have 'offered' farmers as agents of Defra. And EFRAcom have accepted that as well. However, they caution that any cull must be properly monitored by Defra and say that if such conditions as laid down by Defra, Natural England and agreed by the ISG and Sir David King can be met, then they accept "that a licence for such a cull should be granted".

Lord Rooker is on record as saying 'no more cash', but EFRAcom say Defra must spend to save - in the long term.

In this though, we think chairman, Michael Jack MP, was talking about slaughtered cattle, not Government responsibilities.

AnimalEnthuist said...

Great article. It is very interesting and informative!