Bovine TB could spread across country 'within the decade'
Tuberculosis in cattle will spread from the South West to Greater Manchester, Merseyside and West Yorkshire within a decade if left unchecked, the Government has said.
The warning comes as ministers unveiled new rules to curb the disease in peripheral areas, such as Nottinghamshire, Hampshire and East Sussex, including targeted use of funding for a badger vaccination.
Stamping out infection in areas where the disease is spreading, known as the "edge" area, will benefit farmers and livestock businesses by an estimated £27 million over 10 years, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said. Farming Minister David Heath said: "Bovine TB is a highly infectious disease that is devastating our dairy and beef industry and continues to spread across England at an alarming rate. We must do everything we can to crack down on what is the biggest animal disease threat facing the nation."
"We are taking tough and decisive action on TB at the frontier of this disease to stop and then reverse the spread."
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Measures include immediate testing of any herds in Cheshire and Derbyshire within a 3km (2 mile) radius of a farm with a new TB outbreak, and tough testing rules for herds that lose their TB free status testing.
There will be targeted use of the funding for badger vaccines, with farmers and landowners able to apply for a share of £250,000 funding to cover up to half the costs of the first year of vaccination projects for badgers.
And new projects by officials will estimate likely locations of badger populations in the edge area and assess the rate of infection in local badgers by doing post-mortem examinations on animals killed on the roads.
Controversial pilot culls of badgers, which spread the disease to cattle, are set to start imminently in the South West.
Analysis suggests that bovine TB – endemic in the South West – could spread beyond the "edge" to areas such as Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire by 2022.
Michael Seals, chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, said: "We cannot allow bovine TB to continue to spread and condemn more farmers to the fate of dairy and beef herds in the south and west of England who have to live in constant fear of the disease."
The new measures will start to be introduced in October 2013. Shadow Farming Minister Huw Irranca-Davies said: "More rigorous controls on biosecurity and cattle movements to stop the spread of this devastating disease are welcome. But I worry ministers are simply paying lip service to tackling badger TB.
"Vaccination trials have been cancelled and oral vaccination development has been cut back. Worst of all, the badger culls risk spreading the disease which would be bad for the countryside, bad for farmers and bad for taxpayers."