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Badger cull could be considered

01 March 2005 - BBC News

The government may consider a cull of badgers if scientific tests prove it could limit the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. But the National Farmers' Union (NFU) says the timetable is too vague and something needs to be done immediately. It is worried that farmers are being asked to bear more of the rising costs of policing the disease.

More than 1,000 farms in Devon and Cornwall had TB in cattle in the first six months of 2004. This resulted in the slaughter of about 3,500 cattle which, according to figures published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in August, was more than anywhere else in England, Scotland or Wales.

The ground rules announcement by Defra on Tuesday follows a call by more than 300 vets for a "strategic cull" of badgers and aim to improve control of the disease over the next 10 years. But the NFU has accused the government of fiddling while bovine TB runs rampant throughout the region. It says no specific commitment was made in Defra's Strategic Framework. Anthony Gibson, the NFU's South West regional director, said: "We understand the need for farmers to play their part in controlling this wretched disease, but the problem must be dealt with in its entirety. Cracking down on cattle movements and slaughtering cattle whilst taking no action whatsoever to deal with the huge reservoir of infection amongst badgers which are totally free to wander is like trying to bail out a boat without fixing the hole that's letting the water in."

Mr Gibson says with the number of farms in Devon and Cornwall under "crippling" TB restrictions and delays in the testing regime, many farmers' tolerance is at breaking point.

Nationally it has cost more than 80m to tackle the effects of TB in the past year. Oliver Edwards, a cattle farmer from Exmoor, says most farmers are already acting very responsibly to control bovine TB. He said: "I have a closed herd, so no cattle come on to my farm unless they are TB tested, and we have now gone down with a TB outbreak." Mr Edwards believes the issue needs to be tackled by the government immediately or the problem is going to increase. "As long as the issue is addressed asap then we'll be able to get clean badgers, clean cattle and go on," he added.

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