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Tackling bovine TB: Badger cull or vaccine?

23 April 2010 - BBC News

Adrian Campbell BBC SW Environment correspondent

The green and fertile lowlands in the south of Ireland look similar to much of Devon and Cornwall and, like the Irish Republic, both counties have problems with bovine TB.

Irish politicians say they have spent hundreds of millions of euros in recent years trying to solve the issue but, so far, have failed. They believe bovine TB in cattle is most commonly spread by badgers! Unlike England, the Irish have had a culling policy for badgers where wire snares are used to trap badgers which are then shot.

The more modern humane option involves vaccination. The first vaccination deployment for badgers with bovine TB in England has already begun. Across the south west of England, ten of millions of pounds of tax payers' money has already been spent compensating farmers whose cattle have contracted the disease. Sadly some hotspot areas for the disease will have to wait longer than other parts of the country for the vital badger vaccine.

Many farmers want a limited cull of the badger, but most animal welfare groups say such a move is too cruel as the animals may be injured when captured and not killed outright instantly.

But what do British political parties have to offer?

The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats both said they would have a "carefully-managed" and "science-led" policy of badger control in areas with "high and persistent levels" of the disease. The Liberal Democrats added that a programme of vaccines, regular testing and compulsory post-movement testing for cattle moving from high to low risk areas was also needed.

The Labour Party said the only way to beat bovine TB in the long-term was by "developing a vaccine". It said a badger vaccine deployment project had already begun in six high-incidence areas in England and will continue for at least five years in each area.

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