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Badgers 'should be on the pill'

22 July 2004 - BBC News

Britain's badger population should be given contraceptives to stop the animals from spreading disease, MPs say. Badgers were described as "vermin" by one Tory MP and blamed them for spreading tuberculosis to cattle.

The government confirmed that animal contraception trials had already begun, with wild boars being given injections.

But campaigners said badgers should not be blamed for the spread of bovine TB and urged tighter livestock controls. Dr Elaine King of the National Federation of Badger Groups said that many other animals could spread the disease to cattle. She said it must be tackled "in the broadest possible context" as animals from deer to shrews also carried TB. But she added: "Oral contraception may not be the best idea, but we would say it needs to be looked at alongside other options."

The suggestion came in the House of Commons from Tory MP Patrick McLoughlin, who urged that the animals be "put on the pill". Later in the debate another Tory MP, Anthony Steen, said: "Badgers are vermin, there are no known predators, the disease is spreading rampant throughout the south west; it's inflicting enormous damage and loss on herds. Farmers are now less protected than badgers and it appears the government couldn't care less."

Animal health minister Ben Bradshaw admitted that he was aware of research into animal contraception. But he added: "I'm afraid we haven't yet got to the stage where a reliable or effective method has been found."

Later a spokesman for the rural affairs department, Defra, told BBC News Online that tests were being done on wild boar to see if contraception was worthwhile. But the spokesman added that the boar were being injected, which would not be suitable for badgers. There are around 300,000 badgers in Britain.

They are often blamed for infecting cattle with TB although there is no scientific proof.

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