Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 15:56 UK

Benn confirms TB cull rejection

A badger
Badgers have been blamed for the spread of TB in cattle

The government will not issue licences to cull badgers to prevent cattle TB in England, Hilary Benn has confirmed.

In a Commons statement, the environment secretary said that while a large-scale cull could improve the situation, it could also make the problem worse.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) is taking legal advice on the decision, details of which were obtained by BBC News on Friday.

About 4,000 herds were affected by the disease last year.

These were mainly localised to the south-west of England.

It could end up making the disease worse
Hilary Benn

Rather than culling, vaccination will form a cornerstone of bovine TB policy, and the government is to invest 20m into research.

The government based its decision on advice from the Independent Scientific Group which it established to review research on the issue.

The ISG concluded that culling would not be an economic solution to the problem, as did the Environment and Rural Affairs select committee.

A subsequent analysis led by the government's former chief scientific advisor Sir David King came down in favour of culling.

The Welsh Assembly Government is planning a pilot badger cull, but has yet to announce the area in which it will take place.

Better or worse

Mr Benn recalled that the UK Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) concluded that proactive culling - attempting to wipe out badgers across large swathes of countryside - reduced disease incidence inside the cull zone, but increased it around the edges of the zone.

RBCT - RESULTS
30 areas of the country, each 100 square km
10 culled proactively, 10 reactively, 10 not culled
Badgers culled through being caught in cage and then shot
Reactive culling suspended in 2003 after 25% rise in infection
Proactive culling decreased incidence by 19% inside zone, but increased it by 29% on edge of zone
Trial cost 7m per year

"I have decided that while such a cull might work, it might also not work," he said.

"It could end up making the disease worse if it was not sustained over time or delivered effectively."

Some landowners would be reluctant to allow culling on their land, he acknowledged, making effective delivery of the strategy less likely.

The RBCT concluded that reactive culling - killing badgers in the area around an outbreak that had already been identified - made things worse.

"It may not be what people would assume would be the answer to the question, but it is the answer to the question," he said.

Spineless

The environment secretary's decision met with angry reaction from some opposition MPs.

Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and Devon West, described it as a "spineless abdication of responsibility".

Mr Benn indicated his belief that vaccination - either of badgers or cattle or both - should be an effective strategy as soon as vaccines can be developed.

He also announced the formation of a partnership group to develop strategy, and hoped that industry representatives will join.

Badger Trust spokesman Trevor Lawson suggested that farmers' groups should now work constructively with the partnership.

"This overwhelming body of sound scientific opinion means that the farming industry can move forwards with the government in tackling bovine TB with improved cattle testing and biosecurity," he said.

"We are confident that with proper investment, the government will be able to rapidly reverse the bovine TB problem, bringing relief to farmers and their families."




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