Farmers and vets have hailed DEFRA’s decision to consult on a new badger control strategy as a “major step forward” in the battle to control the spread of bovine TB.

The NFU said it was looking forward to contributing to the consultation as bovine TB was out of control and the disease needed addressing in both cattle and wildlife.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “When it came to power this coalition government said it was committed to look at ways of tackling bovine TB in the hotspot areas of England where the levels of the disease are high and persistent.

“Today’s announcement sets out the government’s clear commitment to tackling this difficult issue. This is a significant day for thousands of cattle farmers.

Mr Kendall said there would be individuals and groups who were opposed to the proposals, but he believed it was in everyone’s interest to seek to control the spread of TB.

“Today’s announcement is the first real step on the long road ahead to securing both healthy cattle and a healthy wildlife population. Our ultimate aim must be the eradication of this pernicious disease.”

The British Veterinary Association said the consultation was receiving strong support from vets.

Professor Bill Reilly, president of the BVA, said he was extremely pleased that the Coalition government had made tackling bovine TB such a priority.

“Both the BVA and BCVA have made the case that this devastating disease will not be eradicated without measures that tackle TB both in cattle and in wildlife,” he said.

“We will be looking in detail to ensure that the proposals are as effective and, importantly, as humane as possible.

“Our initial reaction is that the proposals announced by DEFRA are based on scientific evidence and expert veterinary advice and we strongly support the direction the government is taking.”

CLA president William Worsley said he was very impressed by the government’s brave decision to tackle this appalling disease head on.

“For too long, the scientific advice and escalating costs of bovine TB have been avoided by politicians,” he said.

“There will be relief all round that there is now political will to combat this disease. A cull will form part of a package of measures. It is not about eradicating British wildlife unnecessarily.”

David Cotton, Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers chairman, added that the proposed measures would be of immense relief to thousands of farmers.

“If we are to break the cycle of this insidious disease which led to 14,000 animals being removed from the national herd in the first five months of this year, then the more tools we have, the better.

“We also welcome DEFRA’s plans to immediately relax TB testing in various circumstances. The measures should help to reduce the workload of state vets who are already under serious pressure after taking on the mantel this year of testing previously carried out by farm vets in private practice.”

Gregg Bliss, chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association, said the TFA took no joy in expressing the uncomfortable necessity that badgers infected with TB should be culled. 

But he added: “Farmers struggle to do their best to keep disease away from their herds but are frankly fighting a losing battle given the extent to which disease is freely moving and increasing amongst badgers and other species of wildlife.  It does not help that badger numbers have been rising rapidly over the last 10 to 15 years. 

“No-one wishes to interfere unduly with an indigenous species of wildlife, however, badgers are rapacious carnivores with no known natural predators.  The TFA believes that alongside cattle control and farm bio-security measures a cull of TB infected badgers is long over due.”

TB consultation: Badger cull proposals unveiled