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Local Badgers Could Escape a Mass Cull

10 March 2005 - Whitehaven News

BADGERS could escape a mass cull in Cumbria if new findings are correct.

DEFRA experts have revealed that all the recent cases of bovine tuberculosis in cattle are blamed on farmers bringing infected cattle into their herds and not on cross-infection from badgers.

There has been campaigning pressure from the farming community for a cull of badgers, blaming the secretive animals for infecting cattle. More than 300 vets recently called for a "strategic cull" of badgers to control the spread of bovine TB. They said badgers are mainly responsible for passing the disease on to cattle.

But Cumbria's DEFRA expert says farmers have brought the TB virus into Cumbria by not having imported cattle TB tested and badgers have not been to blame.

John Kelsey, divisional veterinary manager for Cumbria, said: "The last three years has seen a marked increase in confirmed cases of TB in Cumbria. Prior to 2001 the incidence was virtually zero, but 2004 saw 18 premises with confirmed disease.

Apart from the Furness Peninsula area which has its own inherent problems, and in which seven of the cases were confirmed, the 11 remaining cases in the rest of the county were associated with the purchase of infected animals, thereby putting their own and their neighbours' stock in jeopardy.

The recent outbreak of TB in Cumbria has been traced, by genetic analysis, to cattle imported from traditional TB hotspots in the south west. The State Veterinary Service has tested 21 badgers from the heart of the outbreak on the Furness peninsula. All have proven to be negative for bovine TB.

The disease on the Furness peninsula has also spread from cattle to deer. An entire herd of farmed red deer, sourced from the Furness peninsula, had to be destroyed in 2002.

Mr Kelsey said: "Our tests on carcasses have found no bovine TB in Cumbrian badgers."

John Cook, a Dalston vet who is secretary for the Lakeland Branch of the British Veterinary Association, said: "I can understand calling for a cull in the South West, where you have a significant wildlife reservoir of the infection. It is more complex than simply removing badgers. There has to be a 100% coherent scientific control policy and if that includes a badger cull then I am in favour."

He said bovine TB had come to Cumbria "because some farmers ignored our advice as vets to have imported stock TB tested".

Wildlife groups say that despite clear warnings from the Independent Scientific Group, Government ministers allowed the countrywide movement of untested cattle in the wake of foot and mouth disease. As a result, TB has spread to every region of England and to previously unaffected parts of Scotland and Wales.

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