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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 12:02 GMT
MPs support badger cull
Cattle farmers are still waiting for a TB vaccine
An all-party group of MPs has warned of farmers' "growing sense of desperation" at the continued spread of tuberculosis in cattle and has backed plans for badgers to be killed.

There is no scientific evidence linking badgers with the spread of the disease but a 1997 report suggested that a limited cull could be one way of finding out.

An independent group was set up two years ago to oversee a trial cull but the programme has been hit by delays and is not expected to report until 2004.

But the Commons agriculture select committee has called on ministers not to wait for the findings but to press ahead now with deciding whether badger culling should become national policy.

Badger facts
British population about 300,000
12,500 should be culled in trial
50,000 are thought to die in road accidents annually
Cull will cost 7m this year alone
There is no culling between 1 Feb and 30 Apr to protect cubs
In its report, the committee said farmers were "getting desperate" to resolve the problem.

An outbreak of TB can cause serious problems for farmers.

While they receive compensation, they are unable to move or sell cattle until the entire herd has been passed as healthy.

'Disastrous delays'

The National Farmers' Union said the delays were "proving disastrous to thousands of farmers".

The trial is comparing three different ways of controlling badger populations. These include proactive culling, reactive culling after discovering TB in cattle and surveys.

The government set up the five-year trials in 10 "hot spot" regions of the UK. A total of 12,500 badgers are set to be culled as part of the programme.

But the MPs have warned that if policy is not decided soon, farmers may begin to take matters into their own hands.

Their report states: "Whilst we accept the independent scientific group's assurance that the trial is now on track and 'it may be as early as 2002 that we have some useful hard data that can be usefully translated into policy options', it remains the case that results are not likely to be available until 2004."

They add: "This delay puts even greater pressure on those farmers whose support for the trial is vital to its success, but whose sense of desperation is growing as bovine TB in cattle continues to spread."

Speaking to the BBC, Agriculture Minister Baroness Hayman acknowledged that it was time to begin to decide policy on the issue.

But she added: "It's not a simple situation. The way in which badgers live and move as social animals can show that culling them actually spreads the disease rather than limits it."

Big question

Professor Sir John Bourne, chairman of the independent scientific group which advises ministers on TB in cattle and is overseeing the trial, said the programme was "progressing speedily".

We don't want to see any badgers being killed unnecessarily


He told the BBC that while the group generally accepted that badgers played some role in the spread of TB in cattle, it did not follow that culling would resolve the problem.

"The big question is about to what extent is [the badger] involved and is culling a sensible way of controlling cattle disease."

The Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is spending 1.4m a year on developing a vaccine for bovine TB, and 4m a year on other research into the disease, excluding the trial.

The cost of the trial for this year is believed to be almost 7m.

President of the NFU Ben Gill welcomed the agriculture committee's report.

But he said he regretted that MPs had "not fully drawn attention" to the growing problem of TB in livestock.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "Before these trials there was just full-scale culling going on left, right and centre.

"We don't want to see any badgers being killed unnecessarily but as an animal welfare organisation we also care about the cattle."

Dr Elaine King, of The National Federation of Badger Groups, said of the proposed culling: "We think it is unscientific and has to contend with enormous practical problems."

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06 Aug 00 | Wales
Badger cull sparks protest
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