DEFRA HAS come under renewed pressure from UK farmer organisations to review its policy on proactive culling in hotspot areas.

The pressure follows the publication of research carried out in Eire showing that a 60–96% decrease was recorded in the rate at which herds succumbed to TB.

“It is reasonable to attribute this effect specifically to proactive badger removal,” the report concluded.

“It‘s overwhelming evidence that badgers are a serious threat,” said Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association.

“It makes you wonder if DEFRA and the badger groups are in complete denial over the role of badgers.”

Sarah Slade, Country Land and Business Association national adviser on bovine TB, said: “The Irish study has proved that by proactively culling we can get on top of this disease, especially in hotspots such as the south west of England, West Midlands and Cumbria.”

The National Farmers Union has also urged DEFRA to consider the results before announcing its TB strategy, expected in the next few weeks.

“The findings of the Irish study are a welcome addition to our understanding of this difficult and delicate problem.

“The government would be wrong to ignore them as it seeks to develop a new strategy to contain bovine TB,” the NFU said.

DEFRA has now requested that the Independent Scientific Group on cattle TB looks at the paper and provides advice to ministers on how relevant the findings are to this country.

John Bourne, chairman of the ISG, told FARMERS WEEKLY that the results needed to be viewed in a broader context.

“The big question that hasn‘t been answered is just how far do you go when removing badgers before you get positive results?

“It may be that the virtual elimination of badgers from an area is required before you get positive results, this is why the policy of reactive culling is so important to the situation in the UK,” he said.

 andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk

 Four Areas Trial Results

The trial involved removing 2360 badgers across 1961km2 (3.9% of the agricultural land in Eire) in four counties; Cork, Donegal, Kilkenny and Monaghan between 1997 and 2002

The badger was snared and then killed the following morning using a .22 rifle.

3280 herds of cattle were involved in the trial

 Of the 2360 captured in the removal and buffer areas 2310 were tested for TB, 450 (19.5%) were found to be positive reactors