New policy comes under fire

THE GOVERNMENT”S policy on bovine tuberculosis has come in for more heavy criticism, this time in the House of Lords.

Peers made their feelings known during a debate on Wednesday (Mar 23).

The Countess of Mar urged the government to reconsider its stance on bovine TB after a group of 350 vets lodged a vote of no confidence in DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett.

 In their letter the vets openly expressed their frustration with DEFRA for failing to tackle the continuing spread of the disease among the expanding badger population.

All of the peers at the debate recognised that a wide cull of badgers would be a decision no government would choose to take. But they insisted that a policy basing disease control purely on biosecurity methods was a “fallacy”.

Criticisms extended to the ongoing Krebs trials and DEFRA”s recent publication of its 10-year strategy, which specifically omits methods designed to tackle the spread of disease among badgers and other wildlife until the trials are concluded.

 In defence of the government”s policy, Lord Whitty, junior DEFRA minister, stressed the importance of the Krebs trials in providing scientific evidence that would be used to formulate future policy.

He admitted that the trials would probably not offer conclusive evidence, but that they would provide important information.

Lord Hylton

I suggest that the first thing to be done is to remove for ever the sentimental idea that the badger is a nice, cuddly little animal, not far removed from Easter bunnies and sweet little foxes. Why should badgers be more highly protected than other mammals? The government should stop the endless prevarication and should pay attention to what vets are now telling them. They should act on the evidence published in the scientific press about the experiments in four non-contiguous counties of the ROI. Those experiments showed that badger culling produced large reductions in TB infections in cattle.

Baroness Byford

The government can no longer ignore the fact that there is a major reservoir of disease in wildlife. Their own estimate is that TB in cattle will increase by 20% year on year. By 2014 we will have spent 2bn and not eradicated the disease. I warn the minister that the situation in some parts is so bad that one person said to me recently that it was a tinder box waiting to ignite due to the lack of action by the government. Farmers are completely and utterly frustrated. We must come up with an effective policy to deliver a managed, sustainable and healthy wildlife population living in harmony with an equally healthy cattle population.

Lord Cameron of Dillington

Farmers are at the end of their tether. Most of them accept that effective culling is not on the agenda until after Krebs has reported at the end of next year, and the more astute among them recognise that nothing much will happen for a year after that. Neither farmers nor vets in my part of the world believe in the current policy. Without some action by government to deal with the wildlife problem, I fear that we will get a concerted response of non-co-operation from farmers, as I have said; farmers are at the end of their tether.

Countess of Mar

DEFRA seems to be sitting in the middle of the road like a rabbit blinded by headlights. In Worcs, where it borders Herefordshire and Shropshire, 80% of the new herd breakdowns have been attributed by DEFRA vets to wildlife. In Hereford and Worcester between 1996 and 1998, more than a third of badger carcasses examined by MAFF were infected. In some badger removals after farm breakdowns, more than 50% of the animals were infected. It has been found that 1ml of infected badger urine can contain 300,000 bTB bacteria, which are enough to infect a bullock. How can farmers possibly protect their land from such opportunist creatures?