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Badger cull threatened in TB row

2 March 2005 - BBC News

Badgers could be culled to stop the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, the government has warned.

It will consider the move if scientific tests prove that a cull could curb the rise, it was revealed in ground rules drawn up to tackle the problem.

Last week, 300 vets called for a "strategic cull" to tackle bovine TB, which saw 3,000 new cases last year.

But conservationists say there is not enough evidence to prove that badgers spread the disease to cattle.

The ground rules, published on Tuesday, aim to improve control of the disease over the next 10 years.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the rules were designed so that specific control policies could be tailored to reflect regional variations in disease risk.

The review was needed because of the increasing spread of the disease and the rising cost to farmers and the taxpayer, Defra said.

Farmers and vets protest that badgers spread the disease to cattle while conservationists say there is not enough evidence to warrant a cull.

Defra said on Tuesday that data from scientific reviews, including a report into a badger culling trial in the Republic of Ireland, would be used to decide if it was effective in stopping the spread of TB.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said there was "no quick solution" to the problem of bovine TB.

"We are fully aware of the impact this disease has on the farms it hits and that's why it's vital that any measures to control it are based on sound evidence," he said.

Defra had spent more than 15m in the last financial year on bovine TB research, he said.

"The effective control of this disease will only be possible in partnership with farmers, vets and wildlife groups."

However, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents the interests of rural land owners, said Defra was "sidestepping the most effective method of tackling the disease".

CLA President Mark Hudson said the Irish study had "irrefutably" shown the benefits of culling.

"If we are to control TB in this country, then we have to control it in wildlife too.

"There is no escaping this and when the minister cites 'social acceptability' as a reason for avoiding the most effective method of control, it does nothing to engender our confidence that Defra will take necessary but unpopular decisions."

The National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG) gave a cautious welcome to the government's ground rules but called for a "clear timetable" on implementing TB control in cattle.

But it maintained that most badgers, even in TB hotspots, were not infected with bovine TB.

Chief executive Dr Elaine King said: "The 30-year long era of making badgers a scapegoat for the inherent problems of modern farming practices is over.

"Without a scientific evidence base killing badgers will never be publicly acceptable."

According to the NFBG, the State Veterinary Service tested 21 badgers for from the heart of an outbreak on the Furness peninsula, Cumbria, and all proved to be negative for bovine TB.

When cattle contract bovine TB, they cannot be sold at market and their health must be constantly monitored.

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