Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 12:31 UK

Farmers' anger on cull rejection

By Tom Warren
BBC News, England

Badger cubs (Andrew Cooper)
Many farmers think culling badgers will halt the spread of TB

England's farming community has reacted angrily over an expected government decision to reject a badger cull to control TB.

The BBC understands the policy announcement, due to be made on Monday, goes against the recommendations of the former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King.

Many farmers claim badgers are responsible for spreading the highly infectious disease among cattle, costing the industry millions of pounds every year.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said it would fight the government in the courts over the decision.

We don't want to lose badgers altogether, but they have got to be controlled
Charles Sandells, dairy farmer

And it has instructed QC Richard Lissack to take on the case.

In a statement it said: "Defra (Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs) is not currently confirming the decision.

"But in light of the BBC reports this is obviously disastrous news for the families and farms devastated by TB.

"We will be taking immediate legal advice on challenging the decision and have instructed leading QC Richard Lissack.

'1bn compensation claims'

"With 28,000 animals culled last year this is a very serious threat to the livestock industry in this country."

Some 4,000 herds across England were affected with TB last year. This was up nearly 18% on the previous 12 months.

The NFU claims that if left unchecked, the disease will cost the government 1bn in compensation and control measures.

It is understood though that ministers have instead accepted the scientific arguments of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on TB in cattle.

TB restrictions mean cattle cannot be moved from farms

Its study concluded that culling badgers would not be economic.

Charles Sandells is a dairy farmer from Shropshire who keeps a small herd of 100 cattle on the edge of Shrewsbury.

After two of his cows tested positive for the disease in December last year, he was unable to move any of the animals until last month due to strict TB restrictions.

"It means you can't sell any livestock and if you haven't got enough silage you have to buy it in," the 31-year-old said.

"We're only a small farm and it's cost us about 5,000.

"We've got about three badger sets on our farm and they're right in the middle of the grazing ground.

"We don't want to lose badgers altogether, but they have got to be controlled. [TB] is only going to spread further into wildlife."

But The Badger Trust said rejecting a cull was the right decision. It believes attention should be focused on cattle as "the main agents of the disease".

Badger groups have also claimed the "virtual extermination" of the animals in the Republic of Ireland has failed to stop the spread of bovine TB.

While the RSPCA has also welcomed the government's expected decision not to embark on a cull.

'Clear evidence'

"This would be the right decision based on compelling evidence," said Dr Rob Atkinson, the charity's head of wildlife science.

Sir David King
Sir David said culling would be effective in "contained" areas
"The most authoritative scientific research ever undertaken on the subject recommended against badger culling as an effective way of controlling TB.

"Evidence indicates that the vast majority of badgers are not infected with TB. Our opposition to a badger cull is based on solid science not sentiment."

Simon Etheridge told the BBC: "As ever, the farming community is burying its head in the sand and blaming badgers for what is an animal husbandry issue.

"The spread of TB in humans was primarily caused by overcrowded, insanitary conditions and poor diet. Farmers are trying to squeeze too much production out of their stock and have run into problems."

But Tom Williams said: "In the last five years my family farm has been blighted by cases of bovine TB, proven to be spread by badgers.

"My family has lost so much money due to trade restrictions placed on them because of these positive cases."

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