Farmers criticise badger cull delay

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Farmers have expressed their frustration at Government delays on a badger cull after the latest figures showed rising rates of TB infection in cattle.

The most recent official figures, for January to March this year, showed a 6.3% increase in the number of new herds testing positive for bovine TB on the same period last year.

The National Farmers' Union said that in the worst affected areas, such as Staffordshire, Shropshire and Dorset, the increase was over 30% on the previous year.

The national increase was 4.4% once a rise in the number of herds tested was taken into account, the provisional figures revealed.

The NFU said the figures showed that "biosecurity" measures to keep cattle and feed away from wildlife such as badgers, which are known to transmit the disease, and increased testing were not enough to tackle the problem.

NFU chief farm policy adviser John Royle said the coalition Government's delay in bringing in the promised cull of badgers in areas which are hotspots for the disease was "completely frustrating".

The new Government had promised it would bring in a "science-led" policy on tackling TB in cattle, which costs the taxpayer and farmers millions of pounds a year to deal with, which would include culling.

Last September it launched a consultation on how a cull could be implemented, alongside other measures such as vaccinating badgers for the disease, but a legal challenge to a cull in Wales has held up a final decision in England.

Earlier this week, the Welsh Government put its plans for a cull on hold while it conducts a review of the scientific evidence.

Farmers in England have been urging the Government to allow them to implement a cull, but animal welfare and wildlife groups are opposed to the killing of badgers, which are protected wild animals, and claim a cull is not the answer.

Mr Royle said: "Despite strict cattle controls that include regular testing, isolation of infected cattle before slaughter, herd restrictions preventing trade, the slaughter of any dangerous contacts and testing every 60 days until the herd has two clear tests, the national and regional incidence of TB in our herds continues to rise unabated.

"The Badger Trust recently said that the disease is being combated without the need for controlling the badger population. However this evidence shows that this is simply not the case.

"These figures clearly demonstrate that despite all the cattle measures we have in place we are not stopping the spread of TB.

"Improved wildlife biosecurity awareness has led to practical measures being taken in many instances and the industry recognises the role it can play in reducing the impact of TB on farms.

"However it is not a guaranteed safeguard from infection. We must break the cycle of infection from badgers to cattle or we will never be able to get on top of this terrible disease."

He urged the Government to make the promised decision and provide licences for trained professionals to cull badgers in areas where there are high incidences of the disease.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Bovine TB is having a devastating effect, with nearly 25,000 cattle in England slaughtered last year because of it.

"It is a complex and sensitive issue and there has been a delay to ensure measures we put in place are the right ones.

"We will announce a comprehensive and balanced TB eradication programme for England by the end of July."