Government rules out badger cull

The Government today ruled out a cull of badgers to tackle the rising toll of TB in cattle.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the Commons that having a cull could end up making the disease worse and he was not prepared to take that risk.

In a statement to MPs, he said vaccination would instead be made a priority, with an extra £20m invested over the next three years.

A Bovine TB Partnership Group will also be set up to develop a "joint plan" to tackle the disease.

Mr Benn acknowledged his decision would be met with disappointment and anger by farmers but insisted there was no quick or easy solution to the problem.

The National Farmers' Union was reported to be taking legal advice after a leak of the Government's decision last week, warning it would be "disastrous news ... for farms devastated by TB".

Today, Mr Benn told MPs that Bovine TB was not new. It had declined to an all time low by the mid 1970s but increased during the 1980s and rose significantly after the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic.

Last year nearly 3,200 new TB incidents were recorded and 18,543 cattle slaughtered in England.

It was a "serious problem" particularly in the south west and the Midlands, with "devastating" human and economic consequences for those affected.

After a 10-year culling trial, the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) concluded that reactive badger culling in areas hit by TB made the problem worse, while proactive culling on a wider scale produced only marginal benefits.

Having listened to a range of views from farmers, scientists and vets, Mr Benn said he had decided "that while such a cull might work, it might also not work.

"It could end up making the disease worse if it was not sustained over time or delivered effectively - and public opposition, including the unwillingness of some landowners to take part, would render this more difficult.

"I do not think it would be right to take this risk. Therefore ... our policy will be not to issue any licences to farmers to cull badgers for TB control."

He said ministers would look at the culling issue again if new scientific evidence became available.

Mr Benn said: "This has been a very difficult decision to take and I know that farmers affected will be disappointed and angry.

"We all want the same thing - to beat this terrible disease - but I have had to reach a view about what will be effective in doing so..."

He said effective vaccines could in future provide a viable way of tackling Bovine TB and the extra £20m would strengthen the chances of successfully developing them.

The new partnership group, with industry representatives, would be able to propose further practical steps to tackle the disease, including whether there should be tighter cattle controls.

It would also look at ways of helping farmers to manage the impact of living under disease restrictions.

"The House is united in its determination to overcome Bovine TB and, as much as we would all wish it, there is no quick or easy way of doing so."