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The government says England is set to apply for officially TB-Free (OTF) status for more than half of the country next year - two years ahead of schedule - as the Government’s strategy to tackle bovine TB (bTB) continues to deliver results.

Dealing with Bovine TB in England costs taxpayers over £100 million a year, required the culling of 28,000 cattle in 2015.

Gaining OTF status for the low risk area, covering the north and east of England, would boost trade opportunities and mean some herds require less regular TB testing, reducing costs for farmers.

This would be the first time anywhere in England has enjoyed this status, making beef exports from the UK more attractive for trade partners around the world. Achieving this status for the low risk area is a key step in the government’s 25-year plan for the whole of the UK to be TB-free by 2038.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

"Gaining global recognition that more than half of England is TB-free will be a significant milestone in our long-term plan to eradicate this devastating disease, and will open up new trading opportunities for farmers.

"We have much still to do in the worst affected parts of the country, but this shows that our strategy - combining practical biosecurity measures, a robust cattle movement and testing regime, and badger control in areas where the disease is rife - is right and is working.

"Results published today confirm all ten licensed badger control operations achieved successful outcomes. A consultation opens today on next steps for badger control in areas that have completed the first four years of intensive culling. This will mean the disease reduction benefits we anticipate are prolonged for many years to come."

Other measures announced today as part of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB are:

Wider use of blood tests alongside the current skin test in the high risk area to provide a more sensitive testing regime in TB affected herds, minimising the risk of leaving infected animals in herds.

A plan to introduce new, more coherent powers to manage the TB risk in pigs, sheep, goats, deer and camelids, to bring them more in line with cattle controls. This will include new statutory compensation arrangements for these species.

More frequent updates to the ibTB online tool which allows farmers to view TB outbreaks close to their farm. From early in 2017 the data will be refreshed every fortnight rather than every month.

Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: "This year we have seen that badger control can be delivered successfully on a wider scale. Further expansion in the coming years, alongside our robust cattle movement and testing regime, will allow us to achieve and maintain long term reductions in the level of TB across the South West and Midlands where the disease is currently widespread.

"The government is taking robust action to beat the disease, with a strategy including stronger cattle testing and movement controls, good biosecurity, badger control in areas where TB is rife and vaccination when possible. The strategy sets out how we plan to achieve TB-freedom across the country by 2038.

"Vaccinating healthy badgers is part of the government’s long-term plan and could play an important role in preventing bovine TB spreading to new areas of the country. Defra plans to resume the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, which offers support for private badger vaccination projects in edge area counties, in 2018 when we expect vaccine supplies to be available once more following the current global shortage.

"The government is also supporting farmers to take practical action to reduce the risk of infection onto their farm. This includes support for a new CHeCS TB cattle herd accreditation scheme, on-farm biosecurity demonstrations for farmers, and training for vets delivered by APHA jointly with the private sector. Farmers can also access practical guidance on the TB Hub, which brings advice from farming experts, vets and government together in one place."

NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “The news that more than half of England could have Officially TB-Free status two years ahead of the Government’s original timetable will be a welcome boost for beef and dairy farmers in those areas.

“Gaining this status for the north and east of England ahead of schedule shows that the Government’s comprehensive 25-year strategy is having an impact. If we are to achieve what everybody ultimately wants – a TB free England – it is vital that all elements of this strategy are implemented in full in the areas of the country where they will have most impact.

“I would like to thank all the people involved with the cull companies for their hard work and dedication which ensured this year’s culls were completed safely, humanely and effectively, as well as successfully in terms of reaching the targets necessary to be confident of achieving the disease control benefits we all want.

“If culling is to have the maximum impact on disease it is vital that it takes place in as much of the area where bTB is rife as possible. We will continue to offer help, advice and support to farmers who want to apply for a cull licence in these areas and where culling will have a beneficial impact on disease control.

“Farmers continue to play their part in helping tackle this disease through cattle movement controls, cattle testing, improving biosecurity on farm, and by committing their own time, money and effort to helping control the disease reservoir in wildlife in as part of the Government’s disease control strategy. The Chief Vet has said that consideration must now be given to some form of badger control in areas that have completed an intensive four-year cull to prolong the disease control benefits. We will consult widely with our members before submitting our response to this proposal.

“We are pleased that Defra has listened to the recommendations made by the NFU about only introducing the wider use of the gamma interferon blood test alongside the current skin test in cull areas after a number of years of successful culling to help minimise the risk of leaving infected animals in the herd. We await further details on how and when this will be rolled out, but it is important there is clear information about the trigger points for when the test would be used and that compensation for any reactors is paid in line with current policy.

“We welcome the announcement of a coherent plan to manage bTB in non-bovine species which is more in line with current cattle controls. It is vital that a comprehensive plan is in place to deal with this disease in all species. The NFU was particularly concerned about the proposed compensation levels and lobbied for an appropriate source of valuation data and rates. We are very pleased that this has been addressed by Defra.

“We have always said badger vaccination has a role to play in the area on the edge of disease spread to stop it spreading further. We welcome the news that the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme will resume in 2018.”