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Vets want badger cull to halt TB

25 February 2005

More than 300 vets are calling for a "strategic cull" of badgers to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

They say badgers are mainly responsible for passing the disease on to cattle, and they express their "despair" with the government's "inadequate approach".

The vets signed an open letter, which they call a "vote of no confidence" in Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.

But the government says it would only consider a badger cull if scientific evidence proved it would work.

The idea has also been criticised by conservationists, who say there is not enough evidence to justify a badger cull.

Elaine King, chief executive of the National Federation of Badger Groups, said: "The vets' claim that badgers are the 'primary' host for bovine TB is not supported by the facts.

"Most badgers, even in TB hotspots, are not infected with bovine TB.

"The recent outbreak of TB in Cumbria has been traced, by genetic analysis, to cattle imported from traditional TB hotspots in the south west."

According to the NFBG, the State Veterinary Service has tested 21 badgers from the heart of the outbreak on the Furness peninsula and all have proved to be negative for bovine TB.

The RSPCA also opposed the measure, saying it could make matters worse.

Colin Booty, senior scientific officer for the Society, said culling disrupts badgers' social groups, territorial structure and behaviour, and may result in more movement of remaining or surrounding animals.

"Therefore if it is proved that badgers are involved in spreading bovine TB, such disturbance may exacerbate the problem," he went on.

The letter to Mrs Beckett was signed by vets mainly from the South West of England, the region worst affected by bovine TB.

They say there has been an 18% rise in outbreaks of the disease every year since 1986, and they estimate there were nearly 3,000 cases of the disease in the UK last year.

The vets say the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has allowed the statutory eradication of the disease to go "backwards alarmingly".

The letter adds: "If the present dire situation continues this status is likely to be lost in the near future."

When cattle contract bovine TB, they cannot be sold at market and their health must be constantly monitored.

More than 1,000 farms in Devon and Cornwall had TB in cattle in the first six months of 2004, according to Defra statistics.

As a result more than 2,000 cattle from Devon were slaughtered and nearly 1,500 from Cornwall.

The government will announce its latest plans for dealing with the disease next week.

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