Relaxed attitude to bovine TB shocks MPs

The government’s optimism on bovine TB has frustrated a committee of MPs worried by the “serious nature of the disease”.

The environment, food and rural affairs committee accuses it of appearing complacent over the nature of the threat following the publication of the government’s response to its assessment of the situation.

“We are extremely disappointed that the response was so tentative in many areas,” the committee says.

“It also appears to play down the serious nature of this disease, asserting that the problem is a regional one, that the government’s cattle TB policies are working effectively, and that the position is not as ‘bleak’ as our report suggested.”

Earlier this month environment secretary Hilary Benn told the Commons he had decided against a cull of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle.

He warned there is a risk a cull could make the situation worse and this opinion was reiterated by the government today.

“It would be very difficult to deliver an effective large area cull in practice; it would be a costly operation that would need to be continued for a number of years,” the government noted.

“Public opposition to culling would also make yet more difficult the challenge of delivering an effective cull.”

MPs say the government should provide a clearer indication of the evidence needed to “revisit” the culling policy.

They also accuse the government of “opting out of leadership on the issue” by letting many of its decisions be made in consultation with industry stakeholders through a new Bovine TB Partnership Group.

Such plans for partnership are in “disarray”, the report adds, pointing out that the farming industry has “walked away” from discussions on responsibility and cost-sharing.

“The response indicates that there is little in the government’s strategy, beyond the current policy of surveillance, testing and slaughter, to tackle the disease in the short-term,” it concludes.

“This is not good enough – it fails to recognise fully the seriousness of the situation.”