Tackling Bovine TB

This blog will provide updates on the work carried out across England to tackle TB in cattle, and share information on the disease and its impact.

Apr 16

Environment Secretary visits farm devastated by bovine TB

Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson visited a dairy farm in Dorset yesterday and met with a farmer who lost 31 TB infected in-calf heifers on Monday and a further five cows yesterday.


You can learn more about this farm on ITV News West Country here.

Bovine TB statistics and your chance to feed-back

The most recent bovine TB (bTB) statistics are now online. These show that bTB continues to be a major issue for farmers across England and they reiterate the need for robust action to tackle the disease in areas where it is endemic and prevent it from spreading further to the “edge areas”.

Since the beginning of this year 2,924 cattle in Britain have already been slaughtered due to the disease.

The charts and tables in this stats notice illustrate how the trend in bTB incidence has changed since 1996. It’s important to note that short term changes in these statistics should be considered in the context of long term trends. For example, the provisional incidence rate for January 2014 is 4.3% which is the same as in January 2013, but higher than the incidence rate of 1.5% in January 1996. The recent figures include a number of unclassified incidents, and as such the incidence rates are subject to further revisions as more tests and their results for the period are included.

Other statistics published this month are the number of new herd incidents up to January 2014. These were 534 in January 2014 compared with 498 for January 2013. And the number of tests on officially TB free herds was 8,083 during January 2014, compared with 7,347 during January 2013.

The TB statistics team is seeking feedback on the statistical notice over the next six weeks. There is a link to the survey next to the full bovine TB statistical notice, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incidence-of-tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain

Apr 3

Independent Expert Panel report and Defra response

The findings and recommendations of the Independent Expert Panel on the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire:


Defra’s response to the report by the Independent Expert Panel on the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire:


Plans to eradicate bovine TB in England unveiled

A comprehensive Strategy to achieve TB free status in England by 2038 has been announced by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today.

Read the strategy here.

This includes continuing to strengthen cattle movement controls, a grant-funded scheme for badger vaccination projects in the ‘edge area’ at the frontier of the disease, and improvements to the four-year badger cull pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire.


Following recommendations from the Independent Expert Panel that assessed the badger cull pilots last year, a series of changes will be made to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling. These changes will be monitored to assess their impact before further decisions are taken on more badger cull licences next year.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson:

The four year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them.

It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.

Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our Strategy, to make England TB free.

Improvements to the pilot culls will include more extensive training for contractors carrying out the cull, better planning by the licensed companies to ensure culling is spread evenly across all land available and better data collection to assess progress. The changes being introduced will help increase the effectiveness of the culls by removing more badgers in a safe and humane way.

There will be a trial of a new service in Somerset and Gloucestershire to provide farmers with bespoke advice on how to better protect their farms from disease. This service will be available to all farmers within the licensed cull areas.

Addressing bovine TB in badgers in high risk areas is just one part of a new long-term strategy to eradicate bovine TB from England. The strategy demonstrates the wide range of tools we will use to achieve TB free status by 2038. This includes:

Offering grant funding for private badger vaccination projects in the edge areas aiming to increase TB immunity in uninfected badgers and reduce the spread of the disease. Defra will provide match-funding for successful applicants;

  • Continuing to strengthen our cattle movement controls and testing regime to stop the disease from spreading from herd to herd;
  • Improving biosecurity by helping farmers understand the disease risk of cattle they buy; and
  • Continuing to invest in development of a new vaccine for cattle which could be field tested next year, and an oral badger vaccine which we would look to have available for use by 2019.

The scale of the problem is different across the country, so we will establish three bTB management regions known as the High Risk Area, Low Risk Area and the Edge area. A range of measures will be applied to control the disease within each zone according to the risk.

Video explaining what bovine TB is, and what the Government is doing to tackle it. 

Mar 27

Cases of TB in domestic cats and cat to human transmission

Two people in England have developed TB after contact with a domestic cat infected with Mycobacterium bovis (M.bovis). M.bovis is the bacterium that causes TB in species such as cattle.

Public Health England and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency have made an announcement today, the full press release is here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/ahvla-en/files/20140327-cat-tb-news-release.pdf

Mar 12

90 cattle killed each day due to bovine TB

32,620 cattle were slaughtered in Great Britain due to bovine TB (bTB) in 2013, new figures released today reveal.

This equates to almost 90 cattle being killed each day as a result of the disease.

The figures published today also show that the incidence rate – i.e. the proportion of previously TB-free cattle herds found to be infected with new incidences of the disease – was 4.5%. This means the rate has been at an unacceptably high level of above 4% for a decade and shows the steady toll of bovine TB on British cattle herds.

Farming Minister George Eustice said:

“Our efforts to control bovine TB have kept outbreaks steady over the last ten years, but we are still nowhere near an acceptable position. Almost 90 cattle are being slaughtered each day due to bovine TB and we cannot allow that to continue.

“Today’s figures are another reminder that we need to do all in our power to bear down on a disease that is costing taxpayers millions each year and taking a terrible economic and emotional toll on our farmers.”

Defra consulted on a 25-year TB eradication strategy last summer, which included proposals for disease surveillance, pre- and post-movement cattle testing, removal of cattle exposed to bTB and wildlife controls including culling and vaccination trials.

The final strategy will be published this Spring. It will also focus on the development of new techniques such as badger and cattle vaccines and new diagnostic tests that could one day offer new ways of tackling the disease.

The latest figures can be found here.

Mar 10

Bovine TB Q&A - March 2014

Many of our Twitter followers have submitted questions to us on bovine TB and our strategy to combat the disease.

We’ve compiled answers to these questions in the blog post below.

- Previous attempts to determine the badger population show a wide margin of error, within the pilot culls zones the numbers were shown to have decreased dramatically; why do we need to control the population of an animal which is obviously not ‘out of control’?

Previous studies have shown a clear epidemiological link between the presence of TB in badgers and the occurrence of TB in cattle and a positive effect of culling of badgers in reducing the incidence of TB in cattle herds. It has been estimated that in high incidence areas up to 50% of cattle herd breakdowns are directly or indirectly caused by badgers. Therefore it makes sense for control of badger populations to be part of the strategy in controlling TB in cattle in areas with a persistently high incidence of TB, such as the South-West and West of England.

- If contraceptives are used, will you be conducting a thorough population and density count to determine which areas they should be deployed?

Contraception of badgers is still at the early stages of development and is not yet ready for use within the TB control programme. It may be some time before this is ready and, if considered an appropriate tool for controlling TB, the strategies for using this in the field will be considered later on.

- If it has to be injected into the animals or needs to be ingested in bait, why do you not just vaccinate them using the same methods?

Currently the leading badger contraceptive being tested is in an injectable format. In theory, it could be used alongside injectable BCG vaccination. However, as stated above, methods of administration will be considered at a later date if contraception is used within the TB control strategy.

- How will this be targeted and how will you ensure that it does not cause whole clan infertility leading to local population extinctions?

Contraception of badgers is still at the early stages of development and therefore is not yet ready for deployment within the TB control programme. If used, it would form part of a control programme to manage, but not eradicate wildlife populations. “Whole clan infertility and population extinction” through contraception alone would require treatment of all animals in the population and for the contraception method to have 100% efficacy; however, this has not been demonstrated in other species where immunocontraception has been used.

- If the contraceptive is not targeted and needs to be ingested in bait, what are the effects if only male badgers eat the drug? Does it have any contraindications to the male biology?

As above, we have not yet considered if immunocontraception will be used in the TB control programme and, if used, have not yet considered the method of administration. The effect on males is an aspect that would need to be examined.

- Badgers cubs have a high mortality rate with less than 50% reaching the age of one year and badgers as a species are slow to reproduce and grow, therefore, why is control even necessary?

A recent survey of badger setts in England and Wales has been published and the findings indicate that badger populations are growing. By comparison with data recorded 25 years previously, the annual rate of increase in the estimated number of badger social groups was 2.6%, equating to an 88% increase across England and Wales. In England, the study estimated an increase of 103% in badger social groups, while in Wales there had been little change.

- What is the minimum viable population number for badgers?

There is no agreed minimum viable population density for badgers. Although densities in the South-West and West of England are amongst the highest in Europe, badger populations can be viable at lower population densities.

- The recent floods and extreme weather will have had a major impact on badger populations, why are you looking to control a population which may already be weakened?

There is currently no evidence that the national badger population has been significantly affected by recent flooding.

- M.bovis can survive outside of a host in environmental reservoirs such as slurry and within protozoa, will flooding cause the disease to spread to new areas?

Water-borne transmission is not considered a significant route of transmission of bovine TB. The main route of transmission is through aerosols.  While M.bovis can survive in the soil for a period of time under the right circumstances, the bacterium cannot replicate in the soil and transmission direct from soil has not been shown to be a significant route of transmission. Nevertheless, routine surveillance for TB will continue in cattle herds, which will indicate if TB levels have changed as a result of flooding.

- What is being done to control any disease spread from environmental reservoirs caused by the recent floods?

The winter floods have not had a major impact on the TB testing programme for cattle.  In cases where tests have been delayed (including as a result of flooded cattle farms), herds will stay under movement restrictions until the required TB test is completed.  All the cattle in annual TB testing areas that need to be relocated because of flooding are subject to statutory pre-movement TB testing.  Where it is not possible to carry out the necessary test prior to the cattle being moved out of the affected farm, AHVLA will issue a movement licence for the farmer and the animals will be post-movement tested while in isolation on the destination farm.

- As Bovine TB has now been detected in the New Forest, do you plan to test all ‘commoner’ cattle for the disease?

Farmers with grazing rights on common land already undergo regular surveillance testing, including in the New Forest. All cattle herds in Hampshire are now tested annually since the rollout of a new cattle TB surveillance strategy for England in January 2013.

- In ideal conditions M.bovis can remain viable within the soil for more than 15 months; do you therefore accept that testing setts is not a workable method to determine badger infection?

None of the potential approaches for testing badger setts for evidence of M.bovis infection is based on soil testing, therefore the presence or absence of surviving M.bovis in the soil does not affect options for sett based diagnostics.

- Although you have suggested biosecurity measures to control the disease, these have mainly been attributed to either cattle or wildlife hosts, what biosecurity measures do you have planned to tackle environmental reservoirs of the disease?

A wide range of biosecurity proposals and measures can be found in our draft strategy to achieve bTB-freedom for England. This includes measures to minimise direct and indirect (environmental) contact between cattle and badgers. In order for biosecurity measures to be effective, they should focus on the principle hosts of infection which are cattle and badgers. In relation to environmental sources, while M.bovis bacteria can survive in the soil for a period of time under the right circumstances it cannot replicate in the soil and transmission direct from soil has not been shown to be a significant route of transmission. 

- Are cattle vaccination trials being delayed?

No. We have not postponed trials for cattle vaccination. Defra are progressing with work on a viable cattle vaccine, according to the provisional timeline set down by the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Safety in January 2013 and the scientific opinion issued by the European Food Safety Authority in December 2013. We are currently on target to deliver a workable vaccine for domestic and international use by 2023.

- How can infected cattle be taken away to be processed abroad, but vaccinated animal products cannot be exported?

The Food Standards Agency ensures that all TB reactor carcasses are fit for human consumption through ante and post-mortem meat inspections. The vaccination of cattle against TB is currently illegal under EU animal health legislation.

- Cattle have been moved from the flooded areas in Somerset without pre-movement testing being performed. Now that these animals are safe, will any further movement be restricted until further tests can be administered?

Cattle that must be moved because of flooding are required to be post-movement TB tested following isolation on the new holding, unless they recently underwent testing for the disease.  This is normal practice in circumstances where pre-movement testing of cattle is unsafe for any reason or when the welfare of the animals dictates that the move needs to happen immediately.

- If other farms have taken in cattle which have been affected by flooding, will those farms now be placed under movement restrictions?

Herds moved on new holdings as a result of flooding are kept in isolation while waiting for post-movement testing, unless recently tested.

- Due to the floods, cattle are being kept inside sheds and barns for extended periods. Being in such close contact for a prolonged period of time may increase bovine TB incidence within herds, how has dealing with this been planned for?

Farmers are expected to take the standard biosecurity and husbandry precautions on their holdings to minimise the risk of TB spread. It is not unusual for cattle to be kept indoors during winter.

- Even in areas which have not flooded, rain fall has been at an all-time high. Liver fluke have increased in number and range due to these warmer, wetter conditions; studies have shown that infection with the parasites alters a cow’s reaction to the skin test, how will you prevent hidden Bovine TB cases caused by the fluke?

The TB testing regime in England is based on the best diagnostic tests available, and research shows that cattle which have both liver fluke and bovine TB can still be detected by the existing TB tests. Furthermore, the programme of cattle TB testing on farms is supplemented by TB surveillance at routine slaughter of cattle by post-mortem meat inspection.

- Open-shooting is not a sustainable form of controlling a badger population, as the costs now outweigh even a government roll out of vaccination, has vaccination become a more viable option?

We will be publishing an updated analysis of the costs and benefits of badger culling when we make a decision on whether to roll-out culling more widely.

- On which projects/ initiatives has DEFRA spent money in the past three years with a projected Benefit to Cost ratio worse than 0.8 (that estimated for the badger culls)?

The first year into a four year cull is too early to speculate over its impact. The benefits of badger culling, measured in terms of reduced cattle TB, are expected to be delivered over a 10 year period.

- The NFU had a presence within the pilot culls, how much of the policy costs did they absorb if any?

The farming industry is responsible for the operational costs of delivering culling.

- If culls are rolled out, will any culled badgers be tested for Bovine TB this time? The vaccination programme in Wales has stated that no badgers caught have shown any visible signs of infection (and would therefore not be infectious/be shedding any bacteria), so it is important to know the current disease levels in the badger population to determine whether this policy will have any disease control benefits.

There is no compelling case for testing badgers for TB. We already have evidence from the Randomised Badger Culling Trials on the role of badgers in the spread of the disease in endemic areas and how TB in badgers changes with culling.

- Why is not more education given regarding anergic animals within a herd? And when will Gamma Interferon testing be introduced for herds with repeat breakdowns?

TB infected cattle are usually identified, through the routine herd surveillance testing programme, before they become anergic with advanced disease. Nevertheless, our draft strategy to achieve bTB-freedom for England recognises the limitations of the skin test in terms of its sensitivity.

The roll out of interferon (IFN) gamma testing is prioritised with the initial aim of preventing new hotspots of TB becoming established in the low risk areas and the edge of the high risk area, rather than in high risk areas with long-term breakdowns.  Nevertheless, the IFN-gamma test continues to be available on a case-by-case basis as a tool to control persistent TB breakdowns. The AHVLA announced at the beginning of February the adoption of a new procedure for the enhanced management of chronic TB breakdowns in cattle herds, which includes the IFN-gamma test. 

Mar 4

Tackling a persistent TB breakdown

By the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)

Persistent TB breakdowns can have a devastating impact on farming businesses. To help farmers regain their Officially TB Free (OTF) status as quickly as possible AHVLA has recently introduced a more tailored and hands-on management approach to tackling these long-term breakdowns.

Movement restrictions are put in place when TB infection is suspected in a herd. If TB is subsequently confirmed the herd loses its OTF status and movement restrictions remain in place until the herd passes two consecutive skin tests.

When a herd has been under movements restrictions for more than 18 months because of infection this is classified as a ‘persistent TB breakdown’.


Richard, one of AHVLA’s vets, has been investigating a persistent TB breakdown in the South West of England:

“The farm I want to talk about has been under movement restrictions for nearly six years. At first losses were not extreme: 13 cattle between January 2008 and December 2010. Then in 2011 and 2012 the number of reactors escalated to 60 each year, and finally in 2013 losses hit a catastrophic 159.

"Jack and Jill (not their real names) run a traditional dairy farm, with a substantial beef enterprise alongside. Their total stock exceeds 1100, with 300-400 cows in milk at any one time. Having had a manageable TB problem for some years, in 2011 the abattoir started reporting visible lesions in some fat cattle sent for slaughter. Laboratory culture of these lesions subsequently confirmed the presence of Bovine TB.

"The alarm bells really started to ring that autumn when two dead badgers were found in a corner near the beef finishing shed. A TB skin test in November revealed 35 reactors, 29 of which showed visible lesions. Fresh badger tracks in some wet concrete showed a continuing presence of these animals on the farm.

"Having undertaken a Disease Report Investigation at the beginning of the breakdown, assessed the post mortem results and reviewed cattle movements onto the farm I concluded that the infection had probably been brought into the herd by wildlife. At this point I discussed bio-security with the farmer and his wife to reduce potential cattle contact with badgers. Jack took positive action, erecting a new cubicle shed and an extensive 1.5 metre concrete panel barrier to make their entry to the farm yard much more difficult.

"With these measures in place a subsequent survey with infrared motion activated cameras showed no badgers in the farm yard over an eight week period. But the farmer and his wife were unaware that their prize home-bred bull had not only contracted the infection but was spreading it. Nobody knows when he succumbed to this disastrous disease or how many of his ‘wives’ had been infected at the same time. Maybe he was not immediately detected by the TB skin test, but whatever the time scale, open purulent places in his lungs ensured he was a danger to any cow in which he took an interest. He finally became a skin test reactor in early summer of 2013, but that did not prevent the slaughter of a further 214 cattle that year, some also with spreading infection in their lungs.

"So where are we now? We have a positive farmer who acknowledges the help he has had from AHVLA and his own private vet. He thinks the worst is behind him. Reported TB from the abattoir has become a rarity and his young cattle were free from infection at the last test. The lingering infection amongst the cows is, hopefully, a reflection of the high level of disease initially and not ongoing infection. Both Jack and Jill hope a clear TB skin test in 2014 is on the cards.

"With disease reducing there is an air of optimism about and I leave the last comment to Jill. In her words:

“The way forward for us is to continue to TB test, promptly remove any TB reactor animals, and be ever vigilant in watching the health and behaviour of our cattle, all the while keeping our biosecurity measures on farm under review. Any signs of coughing, weight loss or unexplained ill-health must be investigated to make sure the animal is not a carrier that has gone through the test undetected.

Feb 14

More than 30 000 cattle slaughtered as a result of Bovine TB

More than 30 thousand cattle were slaughtered in the UK as a result of bovine TB between January and November last year, with new figures showing that 2746 were killed in November alone. The figures, which remain shocking, are a stark reminder of how bovine TB has a devastating impact on our cattle, dairy industries, and at vast expense to the taxpayer. We must continue to do everything we can to rid England of this deadly disease.

The latest statistics on bovine TB can be found on the gov.uk website here. County specific statistics are available within the regional spreadsheets. Each county is represented by a separate tab along the bottom of the spreadsheet. It is important to note that short term changes in these statistics should be considered in context of long term trends.

Following data entry issues with Bovine TB statistics revised information has been published. The incidence rate, which is the key measure of the scale of the disease, was not affected. The amendments have not altered the size of the problem we have with bovine TB, or the need to do everything we can to eradicate this disease which is devastating our beef and dairy herds.

Jan 15

27,474 cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB in first 10 months of 2013

27,474 cattle were slaughtered in Great Britain due to bovine TB during January to October 2013.

In October 2013 alone there were 2,858 cattle slaughtered due to the disease which is devastating the dairy and cattle industries. In total more than 210,000 cattle have now been culled because of TB since the beginning of 2008.

The latest statistics on bovine TB can be found on the gov.uk website here. County specific statistics are available within the regional spreadsheets. Each county is represented by a separate tab along the bottom of the spreadsheet. It is important to note that short term changes in these statistics should be considered in context of long term trends.

This month some of the information is currently unavailable as the AHVLA is amending some of the monthly Great Britain Bovine TB statistics.

These statistics relate to the number of herds listed as being under TB restrictions. A number of herds were incorrectly retained on the database as being under TB restrictions after controls were lifted. As a result, it has been decided not to publish the ‘Herds Not Officially TB Free’ statistic in this monthly bovine TB release.

The new herd incidence rate (i.e. the number of new cases in the population) appears to be unaffected, but further investigations are ongoing to definitively confirm this. As a result this statistic has also been removed from the monthly release.

This problem relates to data entry only and has had no impact on operational activities. It does not affect farmers or have any impact on disease control.

This does not change the need to use every tool we have to rid England of this deadly disease. 

Jan 7

Response to Care for the Wild on cost of badger cull

Care for the Wild are claiming the pilot badger culls in 2013 cost £7m. It is misleading to make an assessment of the costs of the pilots at this stage as certain parts of the pilots have not yet been calculated and fully verified. There are also a number of inaccuracies in the figures produced by Care for the Wild, including an incorrect proportion of controlled shooting versus cage trapping and shooting. Care for the Wild claim that only 24% of the badgers culled in the pilots were by controlled shooting, this is a significant underestimate. There is also incorrect use of figures on the benefit of culling in terms of herd breakdowns avoided. For example, a sample 350km2 area is expected to accrue £3.68m in benefits over a 10 year period, not £1.26m as Care for the Wild suggests.

It should be noted that the badger cull was supported by the farming industry as the only method currently available of tackling the disease in wildlife. The industry covered the operational costs of carrying out the cull. Its participation and financial contribution was voluntary – farmers were not compelled to participate.

Regarding the cost of policing the culls, the final police costs of the first year of the pilots are still being calculated. Whilst we recognise and respect individuals’ rights to legitimate, peaceful protest, significant police resources are likely to have been expended on responding to a widespread campaign of criminality and intimidation perpetrated by a handful of individuals. The inflation of police costs in this way cannot be used as an argument to stop trying to tackle the disease in wildlife using the only effective means at our disposal.

The majority of other costs to Defra are one-off costs associated with monitoring of controlled shooting during the first year of the pilots. In ensuring the robustness of this monitoring - hair trapping fieldwork, detailed laboratory post-mortems and night-time field observations were carried out. This work comes at a cost but will not have to be repeated in subsequent years. Therefore offsetting these costs against the number of badgers shot in just the first year of culling is misleading as the majority of these costs will not be incurred again if the culls are rolled out further. 

Finally, the costs of the badger cull pilots are vastly outweighed by the impact that bovine TB is having on our farming industry and taxpayers. Each bovine TB cattle outbreak costs an average £34,000, and if left unchecked this disease will cost the taxpayer £1billion over the next 10 years.

Dec 11

24,618 cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB

24,618 cattle were slaughtered due to bovine TB during January to September 2013.

Over the same period, there were 3,556 new herd incidents. The average cost of a TB herd breakdown is around £34,000. £22,000 of this falls to the taxpayer and £12,000 falls to farmers. Last year a total of 28,000 cattle were slaughtered.

The latest statistics on bovine TB can be found on the gov.uk website here. County specific statistics are available within the regional spreadsheets. Each county is represented by a separate tab along the bottom of the spreadsheet

The official statistics on cattle slaughtered count both reactors (cattle that test positive for TB) and direct contracts (cattle that are slaughtered due to their close proximity to infected cattle). Cattle that are slaughtered as indirect reactors (those with inconclusive test results) are not counted but are listed in the spreadsheets.


Dec 2

Life as a farmer affected by Bovine TB

"If badger cull trials are successful, says dairy farmer Roger Evans, they must be rolled out wherever bovine TB threatens herds"

A farmer has been explaining how his business has been affected after bovine TB struck his dairy herd earlier this year.

Roger Evans explains that financially it’s a disaster;

"We can still sell milk, but a substantial part of our income has always come from selling surplus calves and I now have to take them to the TB-restricted market, where they sell for a fraction of their value."

He states that he believes badgers are to blame for the the disease, and supports the cull;

"There is talk of vaccinating cattle against the disease but as yet the vaccine is still being trialled, which could take years as there are big concerns about possible residues in meat and milk. In the meantime the situation is just going to get worse.

This is why so many people believe that culling badgers is the only way to stop the spread of TB.”

You can read the full article in the Telegraph


Page 1 of 8