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Defra plans to continue bTB badger culls
The effectiveness of culling badgers to eradicate bTB has been the subject of much debate.
A consultation on new proposals has been launched.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set out proposals for the next phase of its bovine tuberculosis (bTB) eradication strategy for England, including plans to continue with the controversial policy of badger culling.

Part of its strategy to eradicate bTB in England by 2038, Defra’s new proposals will keep badger culling as an option in the High-Risk Area and Edge Areas where there are high levels of bTB infection in cattle and where badgers are considered to be involved in spreading the disease to herds.

The proposals would also end fixed-duration culls, allowing them to continue for as long as is deemed necessary by the UK’s chief veterinary officer, followed by badger vaccination.

According to government figures, in the 12 months to September 2023, the number of new bTB breakdowns in cattle fell to an almost 20-year low. Recent research, funded by Defra, showed that in the first 52 areas where badger culls have been carried out, there had been an average 56 per cent drop in rates of bTB breakdowns in cattle after four years of culling.

However, the success of badger culling has been disputed. A study published in Vet Record last year found that badger culling did not affect herd bTB incidence or prevalence. The policy has also been opposed by some animal welfare and conservation groups.

As part of its bTB eradication strategy, Defra is also proposing that additional information about animal and herd-level bTB risk should be published to help those purchasing cattle.

A five-week consultation on the new proposals, which will close on 22 April 2024, has been launched.

Christine Middlemiss, UK chief veterinary officer, said: “Our strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is turning the tide on this disease with the lowest number of new bTB breakdowns in nearly twenty years. We are making good progress to eradicating the disease by 2038 as we have committed to do.

“The proposals set out today will ensure this downward trend continues, and all culling decisions taken under the new targeted approach will continue to be led by the very best scientific and epidemiological evidence.”

The proposals have been criticised by Badgers Trust. Peter Hambly, the charity’s executive director, said: “We urge individuals, communities, and stakeholders to work together to tackle this disease, which can only be done by accurate herd management, more rigorous reliable testing and cattle vaccination.

“The UK government appears only to listen to stakeholders with vested interests and is fixated instead on a badger-focused policy that affects all of us and our right to nature.”

Image © Shutterstock

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RCVS Knowledge appoints Veterinary Evidence editor-in-chief

News Story 1
 RCVS Knowledge has welcomed Professor Peter Cockcroft as editor-in-chief for Veterinary Evidence.

A world-renowned expert in evidence-based veterinary medicine, Prof Cockcroft will lead the strategic development and editorial quality of the open-access journal. He was previously in the role from 2017-2020.

Katie Mantell, CEO of RCVS Knowledge, said: "We are excited about the extensive knowledge of evidence-based veterinary medicine and clinical veterinary research that Peter brings, and we look forward to working with him over this next phase of the journal's development." 

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Defra to host bluetongue webinar for vets

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will be hosting a webinar for veterinary professional on bluetongue on Thursday, 25 April 2024.

Topics covered will include the transmission cycle, pathology and pathogenesis, clinical signs (including signs seen in recent BTV-3 cases in the Netherlands), and control and prevention.

The session, which will take place from 6pm to 7.30pm, is part of Defra's 'Plan, Prevent and Protect' webinar series, which are hosted by policy officials, epidemiologists and veterinary professionals from Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency. The bluetongue session will also feature insights from experts from The Pirbright Institute.

Those attending will have the opportunity to ask questions. Places on the webinar can be booked online.