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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Bovine TB: Are badgers to blame?
Badgers are now at the centre of the debate over TB
As government vets warn of a TB epidemic in cattle, many farmers blame badgers for carrying the disease.

The UK Government is running trial culls of badger populations in England, but they remain protected by law in Wales.

There are also claims farm that access restrictions during the foot-and-mouth crisis meant livestock welfare measures may have been compromised.

BBC News Online talked to two people with differing opinions.

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Evan Thomas
Defra representative, Farmers' Union of Wales
To really understand this issue, we must look at the history of the eradication of TB in cattle.

It started after World War II and we reached the point of eradication across the country in the 1970s.

But, back then, badger numbers were nowhere near as high as they are today and, as a farmer, if they were causing problems for me, I had the right to reduce their numbers.

It's interesting to see that when the Badger Protection Act arrived in 1973 - to guard against badger baiting and rightly so - you find there is a gradual increase in TB incidences.

There is a provision in the act for farmers to apply for licences if they do have a problem - the trouble is they would automatically be rejected because the government is running cull trials in England.

As soon as the Labour Government has its landslide victory, one of the first things they did was stop badger removal operations.

In that intervening five-year period, we have seen a rise in TB in cattle.

I appreciate there are welfare issues and I have respect for some of the representatives of the National Federation of Badger Groups, whom I have met several times.

What I am afraid of is that farmers will come under so much pressure that they will carry out illegal culls. The pressure is mounting all the time.

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Dr Elaine King
National Federation of Badger Groups Chief Executive

Badgers are being made scapegoats. Over the last 25 years, the government has gassed or shot more than 30,000 badgers in trying to stop bovine TB spreading.

Even Defra scientists are saying that cattle-to-cattle transmission is probably more significant.

We have warned the government already that there will be new outbreaks in cattle in areas of the country because cattle are not being tested before they are moved from TB hotspots.

Defra has already confirmed that this is happening, with confirmed cases in Cumbria and Scotland tracked back to Cornwall.

We predicted this at the end of last year but ministers did not do anything about it until they found new TB cases.

Farmers are restocking after the foot-and-mouth crisis from TB hotspots, mainly in the West Country.

TB is being introduced into cattle in new areas, such as Denbighshire.

It is inevitable that there will be more outbreaks in areas such as this which have not been infected before.

Foot-and-mouth showed how quickly disease can spread through animals, the same applies to TB.

In the past year, cattle have been kept in barns because of foot-and-mouth, breathing over each other and spreading the disease.

The reality is that bovine TB is spread from cow to cow, on the farm and in the marketplace.

The causes of disease are not black-and-white.

Poor standards of animal health and welfare spread sickness like lightning.

The government has been killing badgers since the mid 1970s and that has not stopped TB.

So while farmers are calling for badgers to be killed, we don't know whether it is effective at all.

In many parts of Wales, the ministry has killed badgers, and none of them have been infected with TB.

Bovine TB in cattle has spread to south Wales and the Midlands.

Often, it jumps miles to unaffected areas. Badgers do not travel these great distances. Cattle do.

The badger slaughter policy has failed.

The badger killing experiment is inhumane. Even badgers with cubs have been shot.

Badger groups have rescued cold, wet and starving cubs found above ground in the killing zones.

The government's persistent focus on badgers is impractical, unpopular, inhumane and disastrous for wildlife.

People want to see the problem dealt with through improved cattle testing and diagnosis and a cattle vaccine for TB.

See also:

19 Apr 02 | Wales
Fear of TB epidemic in cattle
09 Jan 99 | UK
TB emerges as the new BSE
10 May 01 | Sci/Tech
UK 'should monitor wildlife health'
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