Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Badger cull decision marks major milestone in tackling bovine TB


An announcement from Defra this week about the proposed badger cull may have been lacking the absolute decisive edge that many in the cattle industry had been hoping for but still prompted a collective sigh of relief that something was happening.

Secretary of State Caroline Spelman announced a final industry consultation on whether free shooting of badgers was an effective and humane way of controlling populations of the animals and, therefore, the reservoir of TB in the species that is so easily transferred to cattle. After this, a decision in the autumn is expected to give the green light for culls in two (as yet unnamed) pilot areas next year. If successful, that will lead to wider culling. You can read the full Defra statement on the issue here.

The cull is a complex, emotive issue. This most recent announcement has likely left some who are pro-cull wishing that a more decisive stance had been taken, perhaps not least farmers in the West Country where the emotional and financial effects have been felt the most (this graphic illustrates the issue well).

With estimates suggesting the cost of an average confirmed bovine TB (bTB) incident in cattle is £30,000, £10,000 of which hits the pockets of the farmer from losses of animals, farm costs of testing, and disruption to business through movement restrictions, the impact on the industry is clear. Of course, the wider financial implications are that it cost the taxpayer in England £63m in 2009/10.

The problem is not disappearing. Reports suggest a 6.3% increase in bTB from January to March this year, compared to 2010, and rises of up to 30% in some regions. TB levels in our wildlife population remain significant and reports have clearly spelt out that bTB will persist unless the badger issue is addressed.

While work continues on the research and development of vaccines for both badgers and cattle, until an efficient and cost-effective solution has been developed to stop the spread of the disease, EBLEX will continue to support the Secretary of State’s efforts to limit bTB’s impact on our industry.

What is unfortunate this week is the suggestion that the announcement was made cynically on the last day of Parliament and when the news agenda was focused squarely on the phone hacking investigation to minimise news coverage. After 15 years of debate, is the suggestion really that this was deliberate?