Farming News - Defra figures show drops in TB incidents, cattle slaughtered
Defra figures show drops in TB incidents, cattle slaughtered
Government figures released on Wednesday show a reduction in both the number of new herd cases and cattle slaughtered in 2013, compared with 2012 levels.
At 32,620, the number of cattle slaughtered dropped by 5,000 (or almost 14 percent) over the year. The statistics released by Defra also show that 4,815 new herd incidents were recorded in Great Britain in 2013, compared to 5,153 in 2012 - a reduction of around 7 percent.
The provisional incidence rate (infections in previously TB-free cattle herds) appeared to have fallen slightly, but Defra said this figure would be subject to a revision as more test results come in.
Wales drove most of the reduction in the UK. There, clear reductions were observed (the number of slaughtered animals fell by 33 percent and new herd incidents fell by 23 percent), though in England the pattern was less clear cut.
The NFU, which worked with cull companies as part of the controversial badger culling trials in Gloucestershire and Somerset last year, claimed the statistics present "mixed news for farmers," as "[they] also highlight that the disease is still a massive problem for beef and dairy farmers [that] needs to be dealt with on all fronts."
Newly elected Deputy President Minette Batters said, "While it is good news that fewer new herds went down with bTB last year and fewer cattle were slaughtered than in 2012, the figures show that the disease remains a massive problem for beef and dairy farmers. A drop in the figures is welcome but there are often fluctuations in long-term diseases like this."
Batters continued, "We have always said that we need to use every tool available to tackle bTB. Farmers are continuing to play their part in tackling the disease through strengthened cattle movement controls, stringent cattle testing, and by improving biosecurity on-farm… but unless the reservoir of disease in wildlife is tackled in areas where bTB is rife farmers will continue to fight a losing battle against this disease."
Badger Trust: TB threat from Farms not forests
However, the Badger Trust has claimed that, "While the figures showed that TB rates are still unacceptably high… evidence continues to show that better farming practices – not culling badgers – will be the answer in beating the disease." The Trust pointed out that apparent drops in TB rates were recorded prior to any possible impact (positive or negative) that could have come from the badger cull trials.
Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer said on Wednesday, "Defra will claim the figures are too high, and that TB is costing the country a lot of money, both of which are true. Then they'll say 'therefore we must kill badgers', but by saying that, they are trying to insinuate that it [bTB] is all badgers' fault, when that clearly isn't the case. TB in cattle has emerged out of poor farm biosecurity, failures in disease testing, and lapses in cattle movement controls. Those are the causes, and dealing with those will be the solution."
Commenting on the newly released figures, Mr Dyer said, "These reductions reflect the more stringent measures which were forced upon the government and the farming industry by the European Commission in January 2013."
The Badger Trust spokesperson was highly critical of claims made by the government about culls carried out elsewhere in the world. He said, "In Northern Ireland, TB is falling at a similar rate to the Republic – but again, through farming measures alone." The Republic of Ireland has been used as an example of effective badger culling by Defra ministers on several occasions. Last week, the BBC acknowledged that, in reporting on the badger cull, it had wrongly suggested that culling in Ireland had reduced bTB levels.
Dyer continued, "Badgers, if they are having any impact on the level of disease at all, are a tiny player in this game. As wildlife organisations we've stepped up and said okay, we'll try and help, which is why we're backing badger vaccination as an alternative to culling. But let's be clear, focussing on badgers is a distraction from the real problems, which come from… farms, not the forests."
The Defra figures were released on the eve of a major backbench debate of the badger culls, proposed by Conservative MP Anne Main, who does not support culling. Main and fellow cull opponents are attempting to encourage the government to "pause and reflect" on the culling policy, in the light of leaked conclusions from the government's independent panel of experts, which found the pilot culls to have been inhumane and ineffective.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Main, MP for St Albans, said, "I am asking the Government to pause, reflect and adapt its policy for tackling Bovine TB. Should the motion receive the support of the House I hope the Government will look at other strategies to tackle this problem.
"I have a great sympathy for farmers on this difficult issue and believe something has to be done to tackle Bovine TB. However this needs to be an effective policy and the pilot culls have failed on all of the Government’s own criteria, including humaneness. I cannot support an ineffective policy that condones the inhumane killing of a protected species and does not deliver on an effective way of tackling Bovine TB."