Dairy Event 2009: Government stands firm on bovine TB

The government has refused to bow to mounting pressure over bovine tuberculosis, once again ruling out a badger cull despite growing concern that the animals are responsible for spreading the disease to cattle.

Speaking at this week’s Dairy Event and Livestock Show, farm minister Jim Fitzpatrick said the government would not change its policy on TB simply because the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had declared they would allow a badger cull.

Fitzpatrick

“We’re not swaying on our position because we are being led by the evidence we have, which is very clear,” Mr Fitzpatrick told Farmers Weekly. “I’m not going to lift [other parties’] policies just because there’s an election coming up.”

The government was doing everything it could that might help the situation, said Mr Fitzpatrick. If new evidence emerged regarding the role of badgers and the disease, it would be examined by the government’s TB eradication group.

“The eradication group hasn’t said a cull is the only way forward. They’ve said there isn’t one solution that guarantees success, so we need to carefully identify what is going to be successful.”

Mr Fitzpatrick’s comments came amid growing public support for a cull. Some 46% of people think the government should embark on an immediate cull of badgers in infected areas, according to a survey published on Wednesday (16 September).

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said the cost of controlling the disease was a good use of government money. Support is stronger for a cull of badgers in infected areas now rather than waiting for a vaccine, it found.

The survey was carried out by England Marketing on behalf of the NFU. Few people realise how many cattle are slaughtered due to bovine TB, it reveals, with estimates ranging from 5000 animals killed each year to the true figure of 40,000.

There is even less certainty among the public of how bovine TB is spread or how widespread it is. But 75% of respondents said they were concerned or very concerned that the disease could spread to humans.

Some 65% of survey respondents viewed farmers favourably, with 94% believing agriculture to be an important part of the countryside. Some 83% said farming was increasingly important in providing an adequate and affordable food supply.

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