12 April 2002

TBCRISISDEEPENS AS BADGERLOBBIESANDDEFRAEXACERBATEIT

Who cares about bovine TB in Britain? Not animal welfare groups.

Judging, that is, by their apparent willingness to condemn hundreds, possibly thousands of beef and dairy animals to perhaps needless slaughter in order to save badgers implicated in the spread of this terrible disease.

Not government. Content that foot-and-mouth has been defeated, it wants to ignore the reality of another killer disease with the potential to match the cost of F&M. TB costs £7m/year in direct compensation alone and the research bill tops £21m. Then, there are the lost livelihoods of 27,000 farmers, awaiting TB tests and trapped by movement restrictions.

Based on the governments own statistics, the resurgence of TB is threatening to spiral out of control. More than three herds are succumbing to the disease every day. New cases in TB hot spots, such as parts of Wales, and areas previously free of the disease for years, like West Sussex, are causing particular alarm.

Many farmers are worried, and some are terrified, that they and their stock will fall victim to TBs ticking time bomb. Our only defence is an urgent cash injection from government to cut the growing backlog of farms awaiting TB testing.

Equally important is a DEFRA campaign, which enlists the support of all interested parties, to devise a short-term strategy, which includes proportionate badger culling, to tackle TB once and for all. We cannot afford to delay decisions about culling until 2005; the completion of the Krebs trial set up to compare three different badger culling strategies on bovine TB. What scientific validity will the results have after the disruption of F&M?

Few believe badgers to be solely responsible. But where so many diseased animals litter the countryside, their contribution to the growing crisis cannot be ignored. Everyone should care about TB. Not just farmers abandoned to deal with its consequences.