Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Plea for help to halt bovine TB

Many farmers believe badgers spread the disease in cattle

Church leaders, farmers and rural campaigners have called on the Government to halt a deepening spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in Devon.

They have written an open letter to Defra minister Hilary Benn, pleading with him to find a solution.

They say the disease is causing misery to thousands of farmers in Devon, bringing many to the edge of despair.

According to the signatories, 16,000 cattle have been slaughtered in Devon since 2006 after contracting bovine TB.

'Acute concern'

The letter, written by John Lee, chairman of the Devon County Agricultural Association, expresses "acute concern" over the "dramatic increase" in outbreaks continuing and growing impact of bovine TB on both individual farmers and the rural community of Devon as a whole.

It has been signed by the Devon County Agricultural Association, the Bishop of Exeter Right Reverend Michael Langrish, the Diocese of Exeter and the Plymouth and Exeter Methodist Church.

Professor Michael Winter, from the University of Exeter's rural policy centre, together with with the Devon Women's Institute and several agricultural associations, have also joined the plea.

In the letter, Mr Lee implores Mr Benn to sort the problem out.

We simply cannot afford to go on killing productive cattle at a cost of millions of pounds to the taxpayer
John Lee, Devon County Agricultural Association

He wrote: "We urge you to take immediate and decisive action, Devon simply cannot wait any longer.

"At a time when there is growing concern about food security we simply cannot afford to go on killing productive cattle at a cost of millions of pounds to the taxpayer, and posing a very real threat to the future viability of the county's beef and dairy industry."

Badgers are blamed by many farmers for spreading the disease, which affects cattle.

The worst affected areas are in the south west and west of England, as well as Wales.

On Tuesday the Welsh Assembly Government announced that a pilot badger cull is to take place in an area of west Wales to try to halt TB in cattle.

Next year badgers in the wild are to be vaccinated against bovine tuberculosis.

The vaccine is to be tested in six areas in England where cattle are badly affected by the disease, ahead of a national programme of vaccination starting in summer 2010.

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