As many as 250,000 badgers across Britain could be infected with the bovine tuberculosis bug Mycobacterium bovis, according to former government veterinary surgeon John Gallagher.
Mr Gallagher, who now works for the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, also claimed the UK badger population now exceeded 1m.
He told a VAWM symposium last week that, assuming a death rate of 1-2% a year, as many as 2000 badgers across the West Country could be dying from TB each year.
But of greater concern was that the disease was establishing itself in a number of domesticated species other than cattle, he said.
“In the south west [of England], we have confirmed outbreaks in 22 cats and one dog. TB is a major pathogen of man and its spread into other species is causing great alarm among the veterinary profession,” he said.
The need for action to tackle TB in species other than cattle was also backed by former chief veterinary officer Keith Meldrum.
“You should never ignore an obvious truth – badgers do transmit the disease to cattle. Only a few years ago that argument wasn’t accepted. We now have to win the next argument that a cull of badgers will be necessary to tackle TB.”
He said the time had come to repeal the Badger Protection Act and replace it with legislation similar to that protecting deer.
“It is no longer tenable to deny farmers the right to control disease on their farms. You have to give them the means to control the disease. I feel truly sorry for those farmers in the south west and just hope that the evidence being presented to DEFRA to stop them proceeding with a cull is sound.”