Bovine TB

West Sussex County Times Article

Anyone who watches the BBC's Countryfile programme will have seen the anguish caused on Adam's or neighbouring farms when their cattle are tested for bovine tuberculosis (TB).

When cattle are tested positively for this disease they immediately have to be slaughtered.  The situation is getting worse.  Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England last year and over 200,000 since 2001.  The cost to the taxpayer is spiralling, with over £700 million spent since 1997 and is set to reach a further £1 billion in England over the next decade, if we do not take further action.

The worst affected areas are in the south-west of England and Wales, but 'hotspots' for the disease occur around the country.  One of these is too close for comfort - on the East and West Sussex border.

Unfortunately there is a proven link between badgers and cattle in transmission of the disease.  In the future it might be possible to vaccinate against TB.  But at the moment this can only be done by trapping and injecting badgers, which is unworkable. Above all, diseased badgers cannot be vaccinated.  It could be years before an effective oral badger vaccine is available.

The Government already has measures in place to tackle cattle-to-cattle transmission, including compulsory testing, slaughter of infected animals and movement restrictions on infected herds.  These will be strengthened.

But we are now at the point where cattle measures alone are not enough.  In order to stop the disease spreading further we need to address the issue of infected badgers.  Regrettably this means controlled badger reduction under licence.

The Government carefully considered all the evidence and responses to a public consultation held last year.  Many people are particularly concerned about the extent to which culling would be effective in reducing TB in cattle and whether it would be humane.

There is evidence from Ireland that culling badgers can substantially reduce TB in cattle.  But in the light of concerns expressed here, a number of changes have been made to the proposed policy in our country.  These include Natural England licencing piloting the use of controlled shooting in just two areas to confirm that it is an effective and humane badger control method.

Evaluation of the pilots will be overseen by an independent panel of scientific experts.  Further licences would only be granted if the evaluation concluded that controlled shooting is indeed effective and humane.

I understand the strength of feeling about this issue.  Many constituents love badgers and write to me opposing a cull.  But I regret that very few letters ever mention the numbers of cattle having to be slaughtered or the distress caused to farmers and their families.

It is important to note that the proposal is not for a wholesale cull of badgers, but for targeted reductions of local populations in high incidence areas.  And there will now be a further consultation on the implementation of the plan.

No-one wants to cull badgers at all.  But I believe that more human and animal suffering would be caused by doing nothing.  No country in the world has successfully controlled TB in cattle without addressing its presence in the wildlife population.   We cannot shut our eyes and will this terrible disease away.


21 July 2011

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