| Owen Paterson vows to rid England of bovine TB with badger culls|
|The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, pledged to make England free of tuberculosis in cattle within 25 years. The plan, announced on Thursday, includes the controversial culling of badgers, which could begin at any time in Somerset and Gloucestershire, as well as measures to control the movement of infected cattle and develop vaccines for both cattle and badgers.|
"28,000 otherwise healthy cattle were slaughtered last year because of bovine TB," said Paterson. "Today we start a countdown towards an England free from this terrible disease. We must stop bovine TB (bTB) spreading into previously unaffected areas while bringing it under control in places where it has taken hold."
The draft strategy, which is now out for public consultation, includes "working with the farming industry" to give farmers buying cattle more information about their TB history. "A range of crucial TB risk information such as movement and testing history will be shared at the point of sale so farmers will know the animal's TB testing history before purchase," said a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The slaughter of TB cattle costs taxpayers £100m a year and incidences of the disease have soared in the past decade. Paterson argues that badger culling is an essential part of controlling the disease. But the scientists behind a landmark 10-year trial of culling described the policy as "mindless" and warn it could make TB worse as badgers flee cull zones. The researcher who ran the trial says vaccination is in fact cheaper than culling, if policing costs are taken into account, and that strictly controlling cattle movements is the only long-term solution.
Paterson points to the use of culling in other countries as evidence that it is necessary to control bovine TB. "I have visited Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA and we must learn from their successful TB eradication," he said. But critics argue culling possums and water buffalo is not comparable.
Ministers said Thursday's strategy "follows up measures already in place" and is tailored to three distinct risk areas across England. The plan, said ministers, aims to cut infection rates in the south west, the most affected region, stop the hotspots spreading and ensure the north and east of England remains largely TB free.
Michael Seals, chairman of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, said: "The strategy is the outcome of collaboration between government and industry with one aim: to achieve bTB-free status for England. Ongoing collaboration and investment by both parties will be essential to develop and deploy the necessary means to achieve this aim."
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, welcomed the plan: "Owen Paterson committed to publishing a TB eradication strategy at NFU conference in February and the publication of this document today is very significant for all cattle farmers. On balance, we think it is an ambitious and comprehensive package to deal with this terrible disease which is devastating the lives of tens of thousands of farmers and their families, and destroying farming businesses, every year."