DEFRA chief scientist Ian Boyd is hosting a meeting with leading scientists to discuss the forthcoming badger cull and long-term approaches to tackling bovine TB.
About 50 scientists and experts will gather at the Royal Society in London on Thursday (25 April) for the meeting.
A pilot cull of badgers in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire is on course to begin this summer.
The latest TB rate figures, released by DEFRA last week, show a continuing increase in confirmed cases of the disease in the UK. Last year, about 35,000 cows were culled in England and Wales because of bovine TB.
DEFRA and the NFU are convinced it is necessary to tackle the disease in wildlife – and specifically in badgers, a known reservoir of the disease – if the UK wants to see this spiralling trend reversed.
However, animal welfare groups and many leading scientists believe culling badgers will have little or no serious effect on reducing bovine TB.
A DEFRA spokeswoman said: “The meeting is an opportunity for Professor Boyd to listen to scientists’ views on the currency of the bovine TB eradication strategy and for him to discuss future methods.
“Some scientists have said they do not support the cull. But there is scientific consensus that shows if culling is done in the right way, it will lead to a reduction of TB.”
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of the meeting, Prof Boyd said the badger cull was part of a wider set of solutions needed to combat the disease.
He added: “TB is a complex and potentially quite dangerous disease. I think it would be very unfortunate if, as a result of protester activity, we lost the option in future of being able to use culling as a method in specific circumstances to control tuberculosis.”
But in contrast, Cambridge University zoologist Patrick Bateson told the programme the proposed badger cull was ill thought out, difficult to monitor and evaluate.