10 January 2001
Farmers ‘desperate’ over TB

By Donald MacPhail

DESPERATE farmers may kill badgers illegally if trials to see if the animals pass TB to cattle encounter more delays, warns a cross-party group of MPs.

Producers desperation is growing as bovine TB in cattle continues to spread acknowledges a report from the Agriculture Committee released on Wednesday.

Included in the 1997 Krebs report recommendations, hold-ups mean results from the Government trials are not likely until 2004.

Doubt must remain over illegal activity outside the trial area if the timetable for the trial is not rigorously adhered to and shortened where possible without harming its scientific rigour, say the MPs.

Despite these concerns, the committee says the trials are the “only feasible way” of determining whether badgers do transmit bovine TB.

It says: “There are lessons to be learnt from the slow implementation of the trial but nothing to be gained from abandoning it before it has had time to achieve robust results.”

The committee urges ministers to prepare contingency measures if the trial results are disputable. This could mean extending the trials or embarking on “plan B”.

The absence of any trial areas in Wales, despite a high incidence of TB, is also criticised by the group.

National Farmers Union representatives who left the TB forum are asked to reconsider “in order to ensure that its members are properly represented on such an important issue”.

The MPs condemn a survey of badger roadkills for being delayed and “half-hearted” for not collecting all dead badgers in prescribed areas.

They also recommend a more detailed study of husbandry and claim that the most sustainable strategy for controlling TB is likely to be a cattle vaccine.

Under the five-year trials in 10 “hot spot” areas 12,500 badgers would be exterminated.