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Farmers' anger at cull decision; Legal threat as cattle hit by TB.

Byline: Emily Beament

FARMERS last night threatened legal action if the Government decides not to allow a cull of badgers to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.

National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said indications that Environment Secretary Hilary Benn was not going to authorise a cull would be "nothing short of a disaster" if true.

Mr Kendall said a failure to cull badgers, which can infect cattle with TB, would have a devastating impact on farmers and rural communities in areas which have been ravaged by the disease.

But the news that a cull of the protected species would not be given the go-ahead was welcomed by conservation groups, who said the reported decision was based on sound science. With spiralling rates of infection and 28,000 cattle slaughtered last year, the Government has been under pressure to give the go-ahead for a cull in badgers, which act as a "wildlife reservoir" transmitting the disease.

Speaking at the Royal Show in Warwickshire yesterday, Mr Benn refused to disclose what his announcement, expected on Monday, would be. But he acknowledged the scale of the problem and the strength of feeling and "depth of despair" felt by those most affected.

But the Conservatives accused the Government of failing to bring the disease, which has cost the taxpayer some pounds 500m in the last decade, under control.

Shadow agricultural minister Jim Paice said: "We want to see healthy cattle alongside healthy badgers but there is nothing to suggest that 'business as usual' will deliver this outcome."

Mr Kendall said: "Last year saw 28,000 cattle culled with TB. A negative decision on badger culling would condemn not only tens of thousands more cattle to death, but also thousands of badgers in areas currently free of TB."

Mr Kendall said the NFU would seek immediate legal advice to challenge any decision that went against them.

But conservation groups such as the Badger Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB welcomed suggestions there would be no slaughter.

A 10 year study by the Independent Scientific Group on Bovine TB (ISG) concluded last year that a cull of badgers could not "meaningfully contribute" to controlling the disease.

Trevor Lawson, from the Badger Trust, said: "A decision against a badger cull would be the right decision, based on sound science, which will allow farmers to move forwards in tackling this disease."

The RSPCA called on the Government, farmers and animal welfare groups to work together to build a long-term strategy to tackle bovine TB, with resources dedicated to developing a vaccine for the disease, which it believed could be made available within two years.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 5, 2008
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