The Government has launched a consultation on further measures to strengthen cattle controls in the fight against bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
The proposals come as new statistics published, says Defra, show the “tough measures” taken so far to combat the disease are “starting to have an impact”, with the rate of new herd infections at its “lowest point” for 10 years.
According to the latest statistics – for March – the monthly incidence rate of bTB, which is the proportion of new outbreaks discovered through testing, was around 3.25%. This is the lowest rate since 2004, said Defra, and follows a similarly low rate in February of 3.5%.
The consultation, meanwhile, proposes the removal of pre-movement exemptions for cattle moving between several holdings under the same farm ownership, known as sole occupancy authorities. This will, said Defra, remove the possibility of some cattle keepers in the high risk and edge areas moving their animals over long distances without any TB testing. However, there will still be the ability to move cattle between areas of owned land within 10 miles.
The consultation also seeks to extend an approach it has used with owners of unrestricted herds to those with restricted ones. Since January 1 this year, owners of herds who fail to complete their TB surveillance test on time have risked seeing their Common Agricultural Policy scheme payment reduced, even if the test is delayed by only one day. Defra intends to extend this approach to include TB tests in restricted herds, as, it says the scheme has already helped achieve a 60% reduction in late TB tests. However, as long as there are “good reasons”, farmers will not always be penalised for missing a deadline.
Defra has also confirmed that from October 1 2014, it will no longer allow the partial de-restriction of TB breakdown holdings. This means movement restrictions will apply to all cattle on a farm until all the animals have achieved officially TB-free status. Defra says there are “a number of options” available to cattle keepers to help manage the impacts of this change, such as registering some cattle management groups under a separate county parish holding. This would mean if TB is found in just one group, the number of cattle subject to movement restrictions could be limited.
Farming minister George Eustice said: “Today’s statistics show the controls in our bTB eradication strategy are beginning to make a difference and the further measures announced today will help even more to bring this devastating disease under control.
“However, we cannot become complacent. The impact of bTB on our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated. That is why must do everything we can to reach our aim of making the whole of England TB-free.”