A Gloucestershire farmer has spoken out against the pilot badger cull.
David Purser, whose cattle farm is located outside the badger culling zone in the heart of the Gloucestershire “TB Hotspot”, likened the pilot badger cull to a “sticking plaster for a running sore”. But Mr Purser said he wanted to eradicate bovine TB as much as any farmer.
Although his herd has never suffered from an outbreak of bovine TB, Mr Purser said he understood the pain and distress that the disease could cause farmers and their families.
“There are farmers out there who are in very difficult circumstances, which no one can deny,” said Mr Purser.
“But we are having to compete in a global market. What happens if members of the public decide not to buy our produce because they are against culling badgers? Our customers are the UK public and they are critical to us competing.”
“They could think, ‘we might as well buy our dairy produce from other countries who are not culling badgers and vaccinating cattle instead, such as Mexico’,” Mr Purser said.
He said farmers in his area were very concerned that a cull would actually increase the disease through the “perturbation effect”, where infected badgers fleeing the culling spread the disease to surrounding areas.
“Farmers who have badgers on their land, especially those that don’t currently have TB in their herds, are very concerned about perturbation. They are worried that diseased badgers will cause them a problem.”
Mr Purser said he believed that the culling would not stop with badgers and that soon there would be calls to reduce populations of other wildlife that can carry bovine TB, such as deer.
“Once we have almost eradicated badgers, we will then turn our attention to deer that are roaming the countryside, and then there will be something else. Where does it stop?”
Instead, Mr Purser said politicians, farming leaders and unions should be focusing their efforts on trying to change the current legislation over TB cattle vaccination at EU level.
As Farmers Weekly reported last week, it is currently illegal to vaccinate cattle with the BCG vaccine in the UK because it is impossible to distinguish between a vaccinated cow and a TB-infected cow.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has developed a “DIVA” test that can distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. But the test still needs validating in the UK before it can go through EU approval.
Mr Purser also highlighted improved levels of biosecurity, stricter controls on cattle movements, vaccinating badgers and the introduction of an accredited herd scheme, in which herds are risk-assessed and traded only according to their risk category, as better long-term goals for the eradication of bovine TB.
Bovine TB is currently costing UK taxpayers about £100m a year, according to the government.
DEFRA says culling badgers will help reduce bovine TB as part of a package of measures under its Bovine TB Eradication Programme.
A DEFRA spokesman said: “No one wants to cull badgers but last year bovine TB led to the slaughter of more than 26,000 cattle, and to help eradicate the disease it needs to be tackled in badgers.”
For updates on bovine TB see our dedicated page