01/03/2005

Badger cull considered in plans to tackle bovine TB

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has warned that badgers could be culled in order to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

Defra stressed that scientific, as well as other evidence, was "vital" to solving the problem. The department said that data from the Republic of Ireland, as well as the Randomised Badger Culling Trials, would be used in order to assess whether badger culling would help stop the spread of the disease.

The announcement came as Defra published a set of ground rules to help combat the problem of bovine TB. The Strategic Framework was developed in order to create a more regional approach to the problem so that specific disease control polices could be tailored to reflect the regional variation in disease risk. Defra said that the review was required due to the increasing spread of the disease and the additional rising cost to both farmers and the taxpayer as a result.

Defra will publish two independent scientific reviews of the 'Four Area' badger culling trial, which was conducted in the Republic of Ireland. The department said that results from this trial showed that badgers did affect the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. However, Defra admitted that issues of practicality, cost effectiveness, social acceptability of interventions and applicability to Britain had to be addressed before a cull would be implemented.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "There is no quick solution to the problem of bovine TB. We are fully aware of the impact this disease has on the farms it hits, and that's why it's vital that any measures to control it are based on sound evidence."

Mr Bradshaw said that while the scientific research was continuing, the government would be introducing a series of short-term measures in order to contain the spread of the disease. He also said that a stakeholder group was working on recommendations to help develop a proposal for pre-movement testing of cattle.

He added: "It is vital, however, that people recognise this isn't just a matter for Government. The effective control of this disease will only be possible in partnership with farmers, vets and wildlife groups. We all have responsibilities when tackling TB and this new strategy defines how we can work together to beat this disease."

The government announcement was met with caution by the National Federation of Badger Groups.

Chief Executive Elaine King told the BBC that a badger cull would never be accepted by the public unless there was scientific evidence to support it.

(KMcA/SP)

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