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Badger cull plan to fight TB

14 July 2004 - BBC News

Badger culling could be a step closer in Wales following an inquiry into TB in cattle.

Conservation groups are likely to be outraged by a suggestion by Welsh assembly members to kill large numbers of badgers to halt the spread of the disease.

Bovine tuberculosis is a serious problem in some parts of Wales, particularly in the south west. So far, there is no scientific evidence that badgers are to blame for the spread anywhere in the UK. But concerns among livestock-keepers are so great that the assembly's countryside committee has been studying ways of controlling the disease - including culling wildlife.

The committee's report, which will be discussed on Wednesday, suggests testing all cattle for TB before they are moved. It also recommends establishing research facilities in Wales. But it also moots the idea of culling certain species - including badgers, deer and other mammals in "hotspot" areas - but only if there is clear evidence they could be the source of the disease. If the policy is successful, it could be applied across Wales.

The suggestions could anger wildlife-lovers and those scientists who have stressed that no direct link between badgers and bovine TB has been proven. Only last week, an all-party committee of MPs said a UK decision on culling badgers in the battle against bovine TB must await the outcome of further trials. The Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee said that if culling badgers was the government's "plan A", then its inquiry looked at measures which might make up a "plan B" response to the problem. "The political reality is that culling badgers could only ever be a limited part of a policy to deal with the problem of bovine TB," the committee's report said.

Michael Jack who chairs the Commons committee, told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today that its members had called on the government to move more quickly and put greater effort and resources into research into cattle vaccines. Meanwhile, badger groups have accused the government of burying a report which was published on the website of the rural affairs department, Defra, website last Friday, which they say shows that deer could pose a significant risk of spreading bovine TB.

The report by the Central Science Laboratory was the culmination of a four-year study into the role that other mammals apart from badgers might play in the bovine TB story.

There are more than 1.5m deer in Britain, compared with 300,000 badgers. Deer can carry bovine TB, and they are known to go on to farms and share cattle troughs. Bovine TB is endemic in four deer herds in the south and north-west of England.

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