In a recent meeting with farmers in my constituency the problems they face with Bovine TB (bTB) were once again raised. Bovine TB is one of the greatest challenges facing cattle farmers. Not only is their livelihood put at risk but the cattle that they have bred and nurtured are often needlessly slaughtered. Bovine TB is the greatest animal health threat to the UK and causes devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities. In the last 10 years over 300,000 cattle were slaughtered.
248 members of this constituency have signed a petition to end the badger cull. I understand their feelings but I disagree with them. Cattle movement controls and testing are being strengthened as is the regime for tackling the disease among other farmed animals. The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme has supported badger vaccination projects on the borders of the high-risk areas such as ours, but there is a worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine which needs to prioritise available stocks for humans. In line with the Welsh Government's decision, attempts to source it for badger vaccination have been suspended.
As part of the approach, culling continues to play a vital role, and, following advice from the Chief Veterinary Office, seven additional licences have now been granted for parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Culling therefore continues to play an important part.
In discussion with the farmers they were sympathetic to those who are concerned for badgers and call for greater understanding of the wider issues. The Government is delivering a 25-year strategy to eradicate this disease and protect the UK's dairy and beef industries. The link between badgers and bTB is known with a 40% infection rate among badgers in hotspot areas. Farmers are working with the government on these restrictions and also by improving biodiversity on farms. Much of this is at their own cost.
Having spoken with farmers and visited farms where they are having to restrict cattle movements I have a better appreciation of the implications of this. It is more far-reaching than generally understood and affects the welfare of farmers and farm stock alike.