April 9, 2008

Badger Eradication Necessary to Prevent TB Outbreak

A tuberculosis outbreak in Welsh cattle as resulted in a "targeted cull" of badgers to eradicate the disease.

Details and location of the cull have not been announced.

According to rural affairs minister Elin Jones, the Welsh Assembly Government's plan includes a one-off test of all cattle and a review of the compensation system

Wales' chief veterinary officer said bovine TB was out of control and the current policy was not working.

Incidents of TB in cattle have increased dramatically and compensation payments to farmers have skyrocketed over the last decade.

Farmers and animal groups have long disagreed over whether badgers are responsible for spreading the disease in cattle. Farmers blame badgers, but animal groups say there is no evidence to support it.

Ms Jones said she is very aware of the strong views on the issue and has given due consideration to the divergence of scientific and political opinion on the matter.

"I want to make it absolutely clear that the badger remains a protected species in Wales and the conditions of the Badger Act are firmly in force. Illegal action will not be tolerated," she said.

Jones said the test zone would need to be in an area with hard natural or manmade boundaries and there would be a one-off test of all cattle herds in Wales to assess the extent of infection.

This would mean testing an extra 4,657 animals or 35% of herds in Wales.

Jones wants to reform the compensation regime for farmers whose infected cows were slaughtered to "encourage herd owners to comply with legal and best practice requirements".

7,905 cattle were slaughtered in Wales last year, up from 669 in 1997.

She said it would cost more than £30m by 2012 if it grew at the present "unsustainable" rate.

Limited badger culling has been initiated in the past, but to eradicate all badgers within a specific geographical area would be the first time in Britain that such a wide-scale measure has been used to control the disease.

Cattle are slaughtered if they fail routine tests under the current policy, but farmers are compensated for their losses.

Farmers have traditionally believed that badgers are to blame for the outbreaks and are calling for a widespread cull.

Two unions of farmers welcome Jones culling plan to take a proactive approach to controlling bovine TB in Wales.

But conservationists blame farmers, urging the Welsh Assembly Government to reject the proposal. They say badgers are being wrongly victimized for an illness brought on by modern, intensive farming.

Trevor Lawson for Badger Trust Cymru said the assembly government had "cherry-picked the scientific evidence which suits the powerful farming lobby in Wales".

Lawson said it is "hard to imagine a more naive and short-sighted political decision than killing badgers."

He added: "It is a tragic day for Welsh wildlife that will have negative repercussions in the rural economy for years to come."

Badgers became a protected species after a bovine TB outbreak in Dorset, where they were gassed for seven years.

Trapping and shooting continued throughout the 1980s until trials were held over the last 10 years to look into culling efforts.

The coalition deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly Government has led to a commitment to attempt to eradicate TB in cattle, with £27m being allocated over the next three years for this purpose.

Conservative rural affairs spokesman Brynle Williams said the announcement would be welcomed by farmers.

He noted: "Clearly there will be opposition from wildlife groups to these proposals."

"However, this decision comes after a lengthy, comprehensive inquiry by the assembly rural affairs committee."