Bovine tuberculosis

The latest BVA guidance and stance on stopping the spread of bovine tuberculosis among UK cattle herds

Background

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a complex infectious disease and a significant risk to animal health and welfare due to its increasing prevalence in UK cattle herds and other mammalian species, particularly badgers. It is a zoonotic disease, which means it can pass from animals to humans and is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M.bovis).

bTB is one of the UK's most difficult animal health issues with control measures costing the livestock industry and government millions of pounds a year.

The House of Commons has issued a Standard Note explaining the government position on badger culling in England and Wales.

BVA position

In April 2014 BVA produced its response to the Independent Expert Panel's report on badger culling in the pilot areas

  1. The continuing spread of bTB within cattle and wildlife has an unacceptable impact on animal health and welfare and has the potential to pose a risk to public health.
  2. The control and eradication of bTB must be based on the application of sound scientific research coupled with the application of sound veterinary epidemiology.
  3. Cost effective control and eradication of bTB from cattle and wildlife populations must be the ultimate aim. Further action must be taken immediately to reverse the increasing prevalence of TB in cattle.
  4. Efforts to control the disease should apply established veterinary principles of disease control.
  5. Control measures in cattle must be accompanied by simultaneous and coordinated measures in badgers and other wildlife and susceptible farmed species including deer and camelids for the success of any eradication programme.
  6. Failure to tackle wildlife sources of infection has prolonged the presence of the disease in all affected species populations.
  7. Targeted and managed badger culling is an option to be used in carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the persistent presence of bTB.
  8. The methods employed by this control must be humane.
  9. A local risk-based approach to methods of control and eradication must be taken to reflect regional differences in the prevalence of the disease.
  10. Risk based biosecurity, surveillance, and Farm Health Planning at national, regional and farm level is essential for the control, prevention of spread, and eventual eradication of bTB.
  11. Veterinary surgeons must take a more active role in surveillance, diagnosis, control and eradication of bTB. Their advice to farmers and animal keepers is an essential element of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.
  12. Defra should continue to support the current research programme and ensure it is kept under review in order to adapt to changing circumstances. Research into the best use of current diagnostic techniques and the development of new diagnostic techniques is of the utmost importance as is the further development and deployment of vaccines for the control of bTB.
  13. Defra should also support further research into the epidemiology of bTB, to highlight gaps in our understanding of the disease.
  14. In the long term vaccination of both badgers and cattle can and should play an important role in any bTB eradication policy, alongside other disease control measures. At the current time, vaccination of badgers can usefully be used at the edge of the endemic TB areas to mitigate the spread of the disease into low risk areas.
  15. It is important to understand the current limitations of vaccination, in particular its availability, practical application, true efficacy and legal status. In this context, there is a real need to manage the expectations of the general public as to the potential role of vaccination in bTB eradication

BVA has produced

England

In December 2011 government gave the go-ahead for controlled culling of badgers as part of the package of measures to tackle bTB. The approach was piloted in two areas in 2013 to determine the ability of the proposed method of culling - controlled shooting - to remove the necessary number of badgers effectively and humanely.

In addition to a policy of badger control the government will work to continue to promote good biosecurity and invest £20 million over the next five years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as soon as possible.

BVA and BCVA responded to the following consultations about TB control in England:

Wales

Although in March 2011 the Welsh Government announced an order to authorise the destruction of badgers in the Intensive Action Area (IAA), they stated in June 2011 that they would instead be conducting a review of the scientific evidence base for the eradication of bTB in Wales.

In March 2012 the Welsh Government announced a project of badger vaccination within the IAA. This began in June 2012.

At the BVA Annual Welsh Dinner in July 2012 the BVA President expressed BVA's deep disappointment with the decision to halt the proposed badger cull (as BVA believes this to currently be the most effective way of controlling the disease in badgers).

BVA responded to the following consultations about TB control in Wales:

BVA-BCVA joint response to WAG Consultation on a badger control policy in the Intensive Action Area
BVA response to the WAG Consultation on bTB in non-bovines (November 2010)

Lay TB testing

In April 2013 BVA agreed a position on lay TB testing:

  • BVA believes that there is a role for lay TB testers as part of a veterinary-led team, under veterinary direction
  • How and whether that role is utilised should be a matter of choice for practices and would be based on individual circumstances and business plans
  • All lay TB testers must be appropriately trained, regulated and subject to standards of quality assurance

More information