9 May 1997

Vets press for badger cull

VETS are calling for extensive and extended culling of badgers to control bovine tuberculosis in new breakdown areas.

In its written submission to the TB review panel, chaired by Prof Krebs, the British Veterinary Association says MAFFs TB eradication scheme has been successful. But its strategy for eradicating the disease from badgers has failed.

"While it is still not fully understood how badgers transmit TB to cattle or whether cattle transmit TB to badgers, there is little doubt that there is a link," the BVA adds.

Last year, 316 new cattle herds were confirmed as having TB and 2431 cattle were slaughtered. The marked increase in cattle TB is a serious concern among vets, particularly in the south-west, where it is "the most serious disease problem facing dairy farmers".

Evidence suggests that the disease is spreading north and east and, if it continues to escalate, vets warn that it may become uneconomic to keep cattle in some parts of the country.

Uncertain population

Although the total badger population is difficult to assess, the BVA says it supports the NFUs view that there are "unnaturally high populations of badgers is some parts of the British countryside".

And in newly affected areas, such as Gwent, West Wales and the West Midlands the BVA believes that there is a strong case for instituting a rigorous badger culling policy.

"Until a more effective way of controlling the disease in cattle can be found extended and rigorous culling of badgers in new areas offers the best available control. Any culling operation must include lactating sows," the BVA adds.

But it says a strong argument exists for an investigation of the number of infected badgers before a removal operation begins.

Reviewing the three policy options adopted for dealing with TB in badgers over the past 25 years, the BVA describes current interim policy as the least effective.

This strategy, where badgers are removed only if they enter the area of a farm where a breakdown has occurred, has been the least effective. The BVA says the policy "is fundamentally flawed in that it applies to herd breakdowns rather than badger groups".

The submission calls for an extension of the options available to the consultative panel on badgers and TB, particularly when dealing with breakdowns on the fringes of chronically affected areas.

Vaccination study

It also recommends a review of areas to which badger control strategies are applied and further research into the feasibility and effectiveness of vaccinating badgers.

In areas of continuing TB infection it supports further use of the live test in badgers, which should continue to be tested and developed.

The feasibility of using a cattle vaccine in infected areas should also be assessed, says the BVA, and the intervals at which cattle are tested for TB reviewed.n