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Bovine TB strategy avoids cull

08 Mar 2005 - Western Mail

by Steven Dube

A NEW set of ground rules has been drawn up to help Government, vets, farmers and wildlife groups tackle bovine TB.

The work is designed to improve control of the disease over the next 10 years and outlines new commitments, defines responsibilities and signals the development of a stronger regional approach.

It does not, however, define specific disease control policies, as different approaches are required according to the scale of the problem in different areas of Britain, including Wales.

And there are no moves to cull badgers, helpfully avoiding controversy over the slaughter of attractive wild animals in the approaches to a general election.

The framework is the outcome of a review of the GB bovine TB strategy which included consultation during 2004 with a wide range of organisations across Britain.

Wales Countryside Minister Carwyn Jones said they highlighted the importance of protecting areas of low incidence of bovine TB and reducing the disease in high incidence areas.

He said, "My prime concern is to introduce measures that are practical, proportional and sustainable . . . which demands commitment, compromise and co-operation from all those involved."

The Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs said the review aimed to address the increasing spread of the disease and the rising cost to taxpayers and farmers.

Defra said it will lead to a stronger working partnership through a new advisory board and improved communications with those who are affected.

Most farmers believe bovine TB is spread to cattle by badgers and want selected culling to keep the disease under control.

Last month more than 300 vets, including former Defra advisers, condemned Defra's "wholly inadequate" approach to bovine TB and called for a cull of badgers in TB hot-spot areas such as West Wales and Monmouthshire.

The strategy makes no promises, but says that data from Ireland and the UK will be used to assess badger culling as part of a cost-effective and sustainable set of disease control policies.

UK animal health minister Ben Bradshaw said there was no quick solution. "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."

"Defra spent over 15m in the last financial year on research into bovine TB and while the scientific work continues, we are rolling out a range of short-term measures to contain the spread of disease."

Defra will publish two independent scientific reviews of the "Four Areas" badger culling trial in Ireland, from the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB and from the Godfray Group.

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster said farmers were not convinced about the Government's contribution to eradicating TB, which includes payments by farmers.

"We are not ready to endorse government plans for farmers to bear a greater share of control costs which last year topped 92m, are expected to hit 110m by the end of this year, and could increase in further 20% annual jumps thereafter," he said.

"Farmers will only agree to contribute to costs if they have more say in control strategies and are sure that they are working."

Mr Forster said the key to securing the physical and financial support of farmers is a balanced eradication programme that effectively tackles the links between badgers and cattle in hot spots.

Conservationists warned the strategy might have little impact without a clear timetable.

Dr Elaine King of the National Federation of Badger Groups said,

"The challenge for the Government is to get on with delivering bTB control through a transparent and fully-audited programme of cattle-based measures. Until something is actually done, this will be a hollow framework."

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