Bovine TB is still an issue affecting farmers in Meon Valley, and there are still new cases of TB occurring, sadly. However, Hampshire is defined as an “edge area”, where incidence of the disease is relatively low, but proximity to areas of higher infection rate make it necessary to test cattle annually, alongside the routine monitoring of herds by farmers. I have recently spoken to farmers in Meon Valley facing this threat, and I understand their concerns for the safety of their herds as well as the views of constituents who oppose culling.
The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease, but no one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely. That is why the Government asked Sir Charles Godfray to conduct a review, which concluded in October 2018. In response to that review, the Government set out its intended next steps, resulting in the consultation which is open until March 24th.
Ministers only ever envisaged that the badger cull would be a phase in the strategy to reduce the weight of the disease in the wildlife population. I am pleased that the ongoing consultation sets out how they intend to phase out culling and accelerate the next phases of the strategy, especially improved diagnostic testing. This consultation also includes proposals to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022. It would also enable new licences to be cut short after two or three years based on a review of the latest scientific evidence at that time.
Under the new proposals, any new supplementary cull licences, which are granted in regions after intensive culls are complete, would be restricted to two years and would not be reissued afterwards. I understand that some form of culling would continue to be an option in exceptional circumstances to address any local disease flare-ups. The proposals are set out clearly in the explanatory document which accompanies the consultation: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/bovine-tb-2020/eradication-of-btb-england/supporting_documents/2021%20bTB%20Consultation_.pdf
It is also encouraging that work on developing a deployable cattle bovine TB vaccine continues quickly and is on track to be completed within the next five years, with field trials scheduled to commence in the coming months.
There is no single answer at this point to tackling bovine TB successfully, but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can beat this terrible disease. I realise that culling badgers is an emotive subject – I wish it had not been necessary to do it myself. I believe the Government understands that, and it has engaged closely with wildlife groups and the public as it has evolved policies. That engagement has continued right up to the present time, as the public consultation demonstrates.