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RSPCA questions need for TB badger culling.

Byline: By Anna Lognonne

The Government has been backed by farming leaders but criticised by animal welfare groups on its consultation on badger- culling in a bid to halt the spread of bovine TB.

Animal welfare minister Ben Bradshaw has said action needs to be taken to halt the spread of bovine tuberculosis by wild animals in infected areas and has announced a 12-week consultation on culling ( a proposal welcomed by farming groups but greeted with dismay by animal welfare organisations.

Bovine TB in cattle has been increasing at a rate of 18% a year and farmers blame badgers for the spread, although this claim is hotly disputed by many wildlife groups. The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered because of TB has increased from 599 in 1986 to 22,570 in 2004 with the disease costing the taxpayer pounds 90.5m last year through compensation paid to farmers.

Now Defra has announced a public consultation on the principle and method of badger culling in areas of high TB incidence in cattle and pre-movement testing to reduce the spread of TB through the movement of cattle.

Mr Bradshaw said bovine TB had reached "crisis levels in some parts of the country". He said: "Recent research has shown that badger culling in hotspot areas can help reduce the disease. But there is still enough scientific uncertainty ( in particular about different culling strategies ( to make it important to consult on the principle as well as the method of badger controls."

Mr Bradshaw said the badger population in Britain was estimated at between 300,000 and 400,000.

Welcoming the announcement, NFU president Tim Bennett said: "At last the Government has acknowledged the need for action to tackle the reservoir of tuberculosis from the badger population in infected areas. It is completely pointless to address the problem of cattle-to-cattle infection if the disease remains in the surrounding wildlife."

But the RSPCA said there was no scientific reason for a badger cull. Dr Arthur Lindley, the society's Director of Science said results of the long-term trial of badger-culling "clearly shows that pro-active badger-culling actually increases TB infection in cattle in surrounding areas and achieves only a limited reduction within the areas targeted".

But Robert Forster, from the National Beef Association, said: "Badger lobbyists should see the advantages of preventing this suffering by eliminating the disease and accept that this can only be done through culling in hot spot areas.

"The species is not threatened by this action because there are well over half a million badgers spread across the UK and the majority live outside the likely culling zones."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 19, 2005
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