DEFRA’s decision to hold a consultation on badger culling, in areas hit by bovine tuberculosis, must be met with a robust response from the farming industry, according to industry leaders.

“[The industry] must throw everything into persuading DEFRA to make the right decision.

This is our chance to help curb the spread of this dreadful and devastating disease said Robert Forster, National Beef Association chief executive.

“Otherwise we will be stuck with the consequences indefinitely,” said Mr Forster.

His call came after junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw announced on Thursday 15 December the consultation and a range of measures to combat the disease (see News, 16 December).

Mr Bradshaw acknowledged that the badger was the primary wildlife host and that the disease had reached crisis point.

Despite introducing compulsory pre-movement testing from February 2006 he said that this alone was no longer enough.

“Evidence from around the world shows that strict cattle controls are essential if TB is to be contained and eradicated,” said Mr Bradshaw.

“But evidence also shows that it is unlikely to be successful unless, in addition, action is taken to deal with the disease in wildlife.

In this country the main wildlife vector is the badger.”

Tim Bennett, NFU president, welcomed the acknowledgement saying: “At last the government has acknowledged the need for action to tackle the reservoir of TB within the badger population in infected areas.

“Failing to tackle TB in wildlife is not compassionate.

It simply increases the risk of healthy animals contracting this debilitating and dreadful disease.”

The British Veterinary Association echoed the NFU comment.

“For too long TB control and eradication has been plagued by those who polarise its spread – laying full blame on either the cow or the badger,” said BVA president Freda Scott-Park.

“The BVA recognises that both species must be tackled if this disease is to be controlled and eradicated.”

But in stark contrast to the vets the RSPCA director of science Arthur Lindley said: “Any decision to cull badgers would be totally unacceptable to the RSPCA.

The society said it was “appalled” at the announcement and was joined by the Badger Trust in calling for more research before any cull can take place.

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk