HC Deb 08 January 2004 vol 416 c402
18. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con)

What recent assessment her Department has made of the spread of bovine TB. [146386]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

Our latest assessment shows that bovine TB restrictions affected approximately 5 per cent. of cattle herds in Great Britain between January and November 2003, compared with nearly 4 per cent. for the same period in 2002. There were 2,869 new TB incidents in the first 11 months of 2003—a slight reduction on 2002. The long-term trend is still upward, although this has been distorted by changes to the TB testing programme in the aftermath of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Ann Winterton

May I tell the Minister that this is a very serious subject for the cattle industry in the United Kingdom, that bovine TB is almost endemic and that it is creeping into different areas of the country? We have had trials and reviews, but what action will the Government take?

Mr. Bradshaw

I recognise the seriousness of the matter, not just for the cattle industry, but for the taxpayer. TB in cattle is costing the general public more than £70 million a year—not just in compensation paid to owners whose cattle are slaughtered, but on research programmes, which are an important part of the action. The hon. Lady will be aware of the randomised badger culling trials that are being undertaken to try to ascertain the true role played by badgers and whether badger culling operations should be a possible policy option in the future. We are also reviewing our whole TB strategy. If the hon. Lady would like to feed her views and comments into that review, I am sure that they would be extremely welcome.