23 November 2001

No more badger culling until next May, says government

By Isabel Davies

CULLING badgers to see whether they transmit tuberculosis to cattle is unlikely to resume before next May, the government has confirmed.

But routine testing of livestock for the disease could restart within weeks.

A DEFRA spokesman said it was unlikely any culling would take place before the start of a closed season which prevents badgers being killed between February and April. But vets in south-west England are preparing to routinely test cattle for TB soon, he added.

Jan Rowe, NFU animal health committee vice chairman, said getting a normal testing regime back up and running was a priority. "There has been some testing of short-interval herds but vets have been so busy with foot-and-mouth they have not been able do more. This is a resource issue and vets now need to be moved away from F&M work."

But Mr Rowe admitted the union was also getting increasingly concerned about the progress of the culling trials. "We are getting more and more worried about the whole process. It was delayed enough as it was," he said. "We would have liked to see it restart before May."

Conservationists who oppose badger bulling claim results from the trials will be flawed because cattle in some areas were slaughtered in the F&M outbreak. Elaine King, of the National Federation of Badger Groups, said farmers who had lost cattle were restocking and moving cattle from TB-infected areas to clean areas.

"There is a huge backlog in TB testing and a lot of cattle will be moved to new areas of the country before testing. We could see an upsurge of the disease in clean counties. It will be difficult to factor that back into the trial."

Mrs King said it would be interesting to see if the government increased other research on bovine TB or shelved it because of cost considerations. The work includes gamma interferon blood testing to detect the disease, autopsies on badgers killed on the road and investigations into the levels of TB in wildlife. &#42