The government remains committed to eradicating TB in cattle and wildlife, despite leaked reports that the trial culls were inhumane and ineffective.
In his first pronouncement since the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) report was leaked , DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson told Farmers Weekly the government was still determined to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.
“I will read the IEP report when it is finalised and then decide what to do,” he said.
“I am acutely aware of the huge cost of the appalling level of TB, particularly in the West Country, and the government is determined to tackle it.”
Mr Paterson, who returned to work last week after a month’s absence following urgent surgery to repair a detached retina, was speaking during a visit to Devon on Friday (7 March).
His trip included opening Bicton College’s new animal husbandry centre, meeting campaigners against deliberate flooding of land around the River Clyst and attending an NFU meeting in Honiton.
Although the UK was at the forefront of developing a TB vaccine, there was still no clinically valid or legally permitted vaccine, Mr Paterson said.
“In the absence of a vaccine, we’ve got to look at other examples around the world where TB is found in cattle and in wildlife,” he added.
No other country had managed to eradicate TB without culling diseased wildlife, whether that was white-tailed deer in the USA, possums in New Zealand or badgers in the Republic of Ireland, he said.
By culling badgers on TB-affected farms, Ireland had slashed the number of cattle reactors from about 45,000 to 15,600 a year, added Mr Paterson. “The Irish have got the end of the problem in sight, and that’s where I want to get to.”