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Tuberculosis - the latest rural crisis

8th January 2002 - BBC Newsnight

This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

It's against the law to kill badgers. They are a protected species. But this farmer has just shot one, and he's not in the least bit worried about us knowing. The badger was sick. But Bryan Hill wasn't just putting it out of its misery. He was trying to stop it giving his cows TB.

Those claws are overgrown. That badger hasn't dug anywhere for a long time. The teeth are gone. It's had its mouth ripped by fighting somewhere. It has been using its nose a lot because it can't dig any more. That badger wasn't very well.

And Bryan sees the illness as a threat to his business. Farmers are certain badgers are spreading TB. And some are now taking steps of their own to deal with it.

You shot it? You're not concerned about getting into trouble for that?

If I'm going to get into trouble for putting something out of its misery that would die of starvation, die of the freezing cold, because the winter is on us now, and is in here and could be contaminating the rest of the cattle round here - no, not a bit.

Landowners have put two and two together. Today, they see twice as many cattle with TB as they did five years ago, and they also say the badger population has rocketed. So, by their reckoning, badgers must be infecting the cows.

I don't want them all dead, nor do any of my neighbours. All we want is a sensible number of badgers living here - healthy badgers, healthy cattle and healthy countryside.

In west Devon, where foot-and-mouth still casts long shadows, TB is yet another front to fight on. Bryan's farm is near Hatherleigh. A fifth of Britain's dairy herds live in this area. He escaped foot-and-mouth but this is a hot spot for TB as well.

This is so precious to us. We've had BSE and foot-and-mouth. A lot of people have had to put up with TB. This is one thing we can't afford to have now. We can't go through another crisis - mentally, physically, financially, whatever. This is where the countryside starts to fight back. When you think of this valley now, there are three locations of badgers in this valley. The general public has a weird perception that badgers are an endangered species. I reckon, in just this valley - about three-quarters of a mile - over 120 badgers.

Bryan's worries chew him up. There's nothing his friend, Paul Griffith, can do to allay his fears. He blames badgers for infecting his herd.

Look at this one, all covered with grass. There's just too many that are being allowed to get too far into the fields.

Paul's infected cows were destroyed. But, 18 months on, the rules say the rest can't be moved outside the farm unless it's for slaughter.

It was never in the herd in all the years I've had the herd. It cannot have been brought in, as no animals were brought in. It can only have come from outside. I'm almost positive it came through feeding animals outside in troughs, the badgers going into those troughs, contaminating them and passing it to the cattle.

The picture looks so simple - until, that is, the badger protection lobby enters the frame. They're saying the farmers' theory is, at best, a guess. The badger, they believe, has been fitted up.

There's no relationship between numbers of badgers and the level of TB in cattle. A lot of farmers say there is. Scientifically, there isn't a link at all. So there are a lot of points that farmers are making which are actually not supported by scientific evidence. That's why we need to have a policy based on sound science.

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