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Badger cull may widen to slow TB

Guardian - Thursday 4 February 1999

By James Meikle

Britain is facing a battle over badgers as Government considers a huge expansion in culling programmes to try to slow the spread of tuberculosis through England's dairy and beef farms.

Ministers risk confrontation with conservationists to stem the tide of a disease hitting as many as 800 farms at any one time.

Farmers' leaders warn that the cattle industry, already reeling from BSE, faces another financial crisis as livestock are slaughtered and restrictions are placed on affected herds.

But badger support groups, which are already trying to stop a more limited cull through a European wildlife treaty, warned that wider slaughter of the protected species would be a public relations disaster. They said there was still no absolute proof that badgers were responsible for the rise of TB in cattle.

Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, told the National Farmers' Union of his concern about the spread of TB from the West country. "It is a serious problem. We are not exterminating badgers. I like wildlife and want it to survive and flourish...but we are not going to allow the spread of TB either."......

A limited cull over five years to test for links between TB in badgers, cattle and humans was launched only in December. There is a ban on killing badgers outside the cull zones, even on farms infected with TB.....

Elaine King, of the National Federation of Badger Groups, estimated that even the limited cull would destroy 20,000 badgers, far more than the 12,000 government estimate. "This would be a public relations disaster. Farmers are still illegally killing badgers like there is no tomorrow, and the message would be that badgers definitely give TB to cattle when there is no conclusive proof.

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