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Report backs limited badger cull

27 Feb 08 00:01
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

MPs have backed calls for a limited cull of badgers to help prevent the spread of TB in cattle.

A report by the environment select committee says the action should be focused on TB hotspots and form part of a package of control measures.

About 4,000 herds were affected by the disease last year, predominantly in the south west of England.

That is up nearly 18% on 2006 and left unchecked the disease is likely to spread across all of the UK by 2012.

If that were to happen, it would probably cost the taxpayer £1bn to tackle and to compensate farmers.

Competing demands

Farmers groups believe a determined cull of badgers - which are known to spread TB to cattle - would stem the steady rise in cases; but a detailed independent scientific assessment concluded that such an approach would not be worthwhile.

Now MPs on the environment select committee have given their opinion - they have concluded that in certain circumstances culling could help to control the disease.

In their report - Badger and Cattle TB - the committee says it is concerned that disorganised culling could make matters worse.

However, the politicians felt that it could help if it was co-ordinated, covered a large area, was sustained for at least four years and took place in areas that have boundaries which would restrict the movement of badgers.

The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), on the other hand, described the MPs' suggestion as "muddled and flying in the face of sound scientific judgement".

The society's director of animal welfare promotion, John Rolls, said: "The evidence shows a policy of badger culling is unsustainable, uneconomic and could even worsen the spread of bovine TB."

Ministerial decision

The report acknowledges that culling badgers on its own cannot stem the spread of TB in cattle.

It calls for better testing and surveillance of cattle to help identify and stamp out the disease.

The president of the National Farmers' Union, Peter Kendall, called on the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, to implement the committee's recommendations in full.

"It is time to act," said Mr Kendall. "We must attack this disease on every front before it destroys more cattle, damages more businesses, infects more wildlife, ruins more lives, and costs government and farmers even more money."

Hilary Benn is expected to outline the government's policy on controlling TB in cattle within the next few weeks.

In response to the select committee report, Mr Benn said: "Any potential policy on badger controls would have to take into account whether it could be expected to have a significant impact on the disease, whether it is supported by the available scientific evidence, whether it could practically be delivered, and consideration of public acceptability."

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