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Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Sunday, 26 October 2008

TB and badgers...

Ben Woolvin
The Politics Show South West

Badger
Could a badger cull result from European intervention?

In July 2008, the government ruled out a cull of badgers to combat bovine TB, but now Europe is stepping in to try and resolve a contentious issue.

The decision to rule out a cull of badgers disappointed many farmers who believe the animals play an important role in infecting their cattle.

Moreover, some feared it was tantamount to Ministers giving up on the battle against the disease.

EU Directive

However, the Politics Show has learnt that Europe has now told our government to come with up with a plan to eradicate bovine TB by next spring.

TB is a growing problem in the South West.

It is estimated more than 2,000 herds in the region are currently subject to movement restrictions.

Dairy cow
Dairy herds are particularly affected

There were 28,000 infected cows culled in the UK during 2007 - The National Farmers Union predicts that this figure will rise to 40,000 in 2008.

Wildlife control?

Farmers insist eradicating TB must involve some wildlife control.

Nevertheless, the arguments about how to manage the disease have been raging for years and in July 2008, the Department for Food and Rural Affairs' Secretary, Hillary Benn, ruled out any cull of badgers.

Now it has emerged the European Commission has asked the government to produce a TB eradication plan and it has offered to send expert vets to help the UK.

While farmers believe badgers are a major part of the problem, The Badger Trust insists there is no reason why an eradication plan should mean a cull.

Minister defiant?

Dead badger
The badger cull debate rages on...

When Hillary Benn ruled out a cull, he said his policy would only be overturned in the face of new research or in exceptional circumstances.

The question is, whether or not EU pressure to find a solution by April 2009 will count as an exceptional circumstance.

Bovine TB is Defra's Achilles heel.

It is keen to work with farmers to tackle the problem, but the industry is still split about how to proceed.

Talks were held earlier this week at which the eradication plan and the task force were on the agenda, but neither Defra nor the farmers can yet say what action is being taken.

But what is clear, is that the South West's livestock industry is in crisis, and farmers will welcome European pressure if it results in action sooner, rather than later.

Watch the Politics Show on BBC One at 12.00 GMT on Sunday.


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SEE ALSO
Q&A: Bovine tuberculosis
23 Oct 07 |  Science & Environment
Badgers and bovine TB
03 Jun 06 |  Politics Show
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11 Sep 05 |  Politics Show

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