1 October 1999

Cut badger populations – NFU

BADGER populations must be reduced to a more acceptable level in TB hotspot areas to halt the diseases spread.

Disagreeing with new MAFF figures on the rise and spread of TB, the NFUs animal health and welfare committee chairman, Brian Jennings told producers at a Spotlight on Profit forum that he believed they under-estimated the rise in TB outbreaks during the first six months of this year at only 15%.

He told the audience that TB outbreaks in cattle are increasing by 25% year-on-year. "The message is that more cattle are involved in each TB outbreak and that it is becoming more common in traditional hotspots."

Action to stop its spread was essential to prevent a massive problem. "Why were 5.5m cattle destroyed because it was likely that they were the source of BSE, yet, when the balance of the argument suggests that badgers are the source of TB they are still protected? Are badgers more important than cows?

"We know the 20,000 badgers in the UK are the host for TB, but we are killing 7000 cattle a year because of it."

The rise in TB outbreaks is worrying, said Mr Jennings. "But ministers cant stand by and do nothing – they are obliged by EU law to act."

When questioned whether producers were taking enough action on their farms to prevent the spread, he said that each situation was different.

"Producers try varying methods, but each farm has a different infrastructure. For example, it is illegal to fence off latrines with electric fences when farming in hill areas.

"Raising water troughs can be expensive and when there is no real proof it works, can producers afford to take this action?"

This highlighted a need for more research into farm practices and genetic susceptibility to TB. However, he welcomed the current governments position, saying it was committed to finding a solution and has invested more money than previous administrations.