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Badger Cull on the Cards

21 February 2005 - Reuters

The government has given its clearest signal yet that badger culling could form part of a new plan aimed at halting the growing problem of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

The disease, which makes cows physically sick, leading to a drop in milk yields and meat production, can also be passed to humans through infected dairy products. However, pasteurisation and modern production techniques make this rare.

Speaking to delegates attending this year's National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference, farming minister Margaret Beckett said on Monday the government had not ruled out the controversial move, despite intense lobbying by animal welfare groups against the move.

Badgers are thought to be the main culprits in spreading the disease, which can lead to the forced closure of farms and the compulsory slaughter of infected cows.

"We will be prepared to consider badger culling if the evidence supports this as a cost-effective, proportionate and sustainable contribution to disease control," Beckett said.

The government said findings from recent badger culling trials in Ireland, which indicated that a controlled culling programme helped to curb its spread among cattle, would also be examined.

"The results, along with emerging evidence from our own culling trial will make an important contribution to the evidence base on which decisions will be made," Beckett said.

The government, which is under pressure to devise a scheme that will keep the disease in badgers and cattle in check, is due to announce details of its new 10-year strategy aimed at dealing with the problem next week.

Farm leaders say bovine TB could cost the taxpayer up to 2 billion pounds over the next 10 years if the problem goes unchecked.

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