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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 October 2005, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Badger cull 'must be considered'
Cow - generic
Researchers say the number of bovine TB cases is rising
The humane culling of badgers to control bovine TB should be urgently considered by the government, the British Veterinary Association says.

It warns tuberculosis costs the farming industry millions of pounds a year and must be eradicated.

In a letter to the government it cites "established links" between the prevalence of the disease within the cattle and badger populations.

But conservationists say there is not enough evidence to support a cull.

BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee says it is the first time the BVA has come down on either side of this highly controversial debate.

Rigorous testing

Its letter to Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw said there was concern that waiting another year for the publication of results of culling trials would lead to increasing infection within the two populations.

This would "also increase the potential risk to human health", it added.

The government had previously said it would only consider a badger cull if scientific evidence proved it would work.

Badger (generic)
Conservationists say there is not enough evidence to support a cull
Following the BVA's letter, the Badger Trust said the government should tighten control measures within the cattle population, with more rigorous testing for the disease.

The National Farmers' Union has said bovine TB poses a real threat to the beef and dairy industries and costs taxpayers almost 100m a year in compensation and testing.

Farmers say in some parts of the country the disease is having as devastating an effect on agriculture as foot-and-mouth disease.

The farming community has said for some time that badger culling is the only way of controlling the disease.

But the government says it is currently analysing other studies on the spread of the bovine TB.

Trials

Mr Bradshaw announced in June the government was to launch a trial to test whether injecting badgers with a TB vaccine could prevent the spread of the disease in cattle.

The three-year trial, costing about 1.1m a year, will start next year in an area of high bovine TB prevalence in south-west England.

A further three-year project to create a version of the vaccine to be taken orally is due to start in November.

In February, more than 300 vets signed an open letter to the government which called for a "strategic cull" of badgers to control the spread of bovine TB.

They said badgers were mainly responsible for passing on the disease to cattle and they expressed "despair" with the government's "inadequate approach".

The Badger Trust said the vets' claim that badgers were the primary host for bovine TB was not supported by fact.


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