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Deer TB risk 'kept hidden'.

Byline: By Steve Dube Western Mail

Pro-badger campaigners have accused Defra of burying a scientific report revealing that deer infected with bovine TB could pass the disease on to cattle.

The accusation, by the National Federation of Badger Groups, coincides with the publication of the organisation's own report into bovine TB in deer.

'Our investigation has uncovered what appears to be a systematic attempt by Defra to conceal the existence of bTB in deer and maintain the media's attention solely on badgers as a wildlife reservoir of bTB in cattle,' said Dr Elaine King, NFBG chief executive.

'This study confirms that bTB is found in a very wide range of wild animals. The authors warn that deer could pose a significant risk of bTB to cattle.'

The report, by the Central Science Laboratory, says, 'It seems prudent to consider deer as a potential, although probably localised, source of infection for cattle.'

Dr King said, 'We know from previous experience that had this report been about badgers, Defra would have broadcast its results nationwide. Yet Defra appears to have buried this report to avoid drawing media attention to the true complexity of the bTB problem.'

Dr King also claimed that Defra focused the media's attention on badgers in an outbreak of bTB in cattle on the Furness peninsula in Cumbria last December.

'Yet all along, Defra has had information to indicate that farmed deer and cattle were the primary focus of suspicion in the outbreak, which dates back to 2002, and possibly 1990,' she said. 'We believe that Defra has focused attention on badgers because it is powerless to examine a remaining herd of park deer and a surrounding population of wild deer which may be at the epicentre of the outbreak.'

The NFBG report reveals that five of the six species of deer in Britain are affected by bovine TB, with infection detected in up to 15% of sampled deer. Only one species, confined to East Anglia, is free of the disease.

The Central Science Laboratory report found that in fallow deer infection rates in fallow deer could be as high as 16.22%.

There are between 1.25 and 2.6 million wild deer in Britain, compared with around 300,000 badgers, and they are particularly vulnerable to bTB. They frequently share the same pasture, feed and water troughs as cattle.

Dr King said European scientists had suspected deer of transmitting bTB to cattle and to badgers since 1938.

She said the Government had known for more than 10 years that deer were susceptible to bTB, but had only just begun to examine the problem.

She said, 'It has spent just pounds 750,000 on the latest study, but continues to spend much of its annual pounds 20m bTB research budget on research involving badgers.

'There is no regular monitoring of bTB in wild, park or farmed deer and financial disincentives are likely to deter deer managers from reporting the disease.'

She said suspected bTB in deer could be under-reported but current legislation did not give Defra compulsory powers to test deer for the disease.

'Cattle are almost certainly the primary source of bTB in wildlife and the Government needs to work with stakeholders to formulate a bTB control strategy that effectively controls the disease in cattle while making the best use of limited resources,' Dr King said.

A Defra spokeswoman said the department had made the research available on its website.

'We're not hiding it, but there's not enough in it to publicise it further,' she said.

'It's just another piece of research and there's a lot of research going on.' 'Culling badgers 'only part of solution': MPs say any new Government decision about culling badgers as part of the battle against bovine TB must await the outcome of further trials.

A report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published today says bovine TB is a growing problem that brings suffering to animals and adversely affects farmers, but culling badgers can only ever be part of the solution.

The MPs took the cull on badgers, the animal which many say is at the root of the problem, as the Government's Plan A, and looked at measures which might make up a Plan B.

'Our focus has been the vaccination of cattle and badgers, the gamma interferon test, husbandry, trace elements and the lessons to be learnt from Ireland,' says the report.

'We have reviewed developments in all of these areas and made recommendations about these aspects of Plan B.'

The MPs say they support the Government's decision to develop a new strategy to deal with bTB but are less impressed by the decision to consult on the issue.

'Defra must surely know by now what its key stakeholders think about this matter, and repeated consultations are very unlikely to shift entrenched attitudes in any event,' says the report.

'Now is the time for decisions and actions.

'The political reality is that culling badgers could only ever be a limited part of a policy to deal with the problem of bTB.

'But in any event we do not believe that any useful decision can be made about badger culling until the results of the Irish Four Areas Study and, more importantly, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial have been received and can be properly assessed.

'We do not therefore recommend that a decision to adopt culling as a policy response is taken prematurely.

'We urge all concerned to respond positively to the challenges of bovine TB.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 13, 2004
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