The National Beef Association has called on cattle farmers to be ready to take part in a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis.

The NBA said a cull may follow as early as the summer once DEFRA’s Bovine TB and Badger consultation, which closes on 10 March, has been appraised fully by the government.

NBA chief executive Robert Forster said that DEFRA was “within millimetres of accepting that badgers must be culled in the areas where TB is most intensive”.

But he is fearful that farmers are being sidetracked by other concerns and the key issue – that of the cull – is in danger of being overlooked.

“Few have yet woken up to the level of organisation and effort required to ensure a cull is effective,” said Mr Forster.

He voiced concerns that a poorly organised cull would cause perturbation of badger colonies and allow the disease to spread as sick badgers moved out of their setts.

“We cannot let this happen.

A cull must be rapid, intense and thorough over a wide area.

“That needs huge resources.

It will need operations rooms, possible army involvement, contingency planning and a great deal of manpower supplied by the farmer,” he said.

“The effectiveness of a cull could come down to farmer co-operation with DEFRA.

“We must be single-minded and dispassionate.

Anything less than that and the chance to hit this dreadful disease hard will be lost.

We may never get this opportunity again,” said Mr Forster.

If that approach is adopted the NBA said it believed the number of TB reactors – currently approaching 30,000 a year would be slashed – as would the number of parishes subject to one and two-year TB testing.

In a press statement the NBA said: “[The NBA] is confident that culling over wide TB hot spot areas will produce positive long-term benefits.”

As an effective culling method the NBA has endorsed the use of carbon monoxide gas as it believes it is the most effective method of the three proposals – snaring, shooting and gassing.

Gassing could be carried out during the day and would be safer for the operators than using guns at night, it said.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk