29 October 1999
Ministers order new £1m TB study

By Johann Tasker

MINISTERS have ordered a new £1 million study into bovine tuberculosis amid increasing attacks by animal activists against ongoing attempts to control the disease by culling badgers.

In a broadening of research, scientists from Oxford University will study the TB risk to cattle from all wildlife species rather than focusing solely on badgers.

The new study, which will cost £960,000, will run independently of the governments controversial trial aimed at determining whether badger culling reduces TB.

Scientists involved in the new study claim the risk to cattle from TB-infected wildlife other than badgers may have been seriously overlooked.

Until now, MAFF has examined more than 20,000 badgers but only 144 rabbits and 23 hedgehogs.

“In contrast to badgers, little is known of the potential role of other wildlife in the spread of TB,” said Fiona Matthews of Oxford Universitys Department of Zoology.

“Clearly if TB is widespread in all wildlife, then the control of badgers may have little impact on the spread of the disease.”

The researchers aim to survey eight farms with recent TB breakdowns in the “hot-spot” areas of south-west England.

They have developed a live test and all animals will be released after being assessed for the disease.

If the strains of TB in species such as mice, rats and rabbits match those in cattle, the scientists believe it could indicate an appreciable risk.

Early results from the work should be available by the end of 2001, at least two years before the badger culling trial is due to report.

That will please farmers as well as conservationists, who will also welcome the study because no animals will be killed.