Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Beneficial Crisis

Conservations want to 'save' all badgers - even Tb infected ones. Farmers want to kill all badgers. Eradicate, eliminate,exterminate.

Neither is true, but a beneficial crisis employing many industries has evolved around keeping the myth alive.

At a recent 'consultation' meeting on Defra's "new Tb strategy' a roar of disapproval went up from vets and farmers present when the 'E' word was mentioned. They wanted to 'Eradicate' Tb they said, NOT badgers, which were a valued part of the ecology.

Wildlife Trust members at the meeting had no problem at all with a management strategy which involved euthanasing infected groups of badgers, highlighted by 'sentinel' Tb testing of cattle.

The report on the meeting failed to mention either point.

Trustee of Somerset wildlife Trust Dr. Willie Stanton produced a paper in 1999, arguing for management policy to be introduced for badgers, in the interest of the wider ecology. He sites their 'extermination' of innoffensive residents of our countryside, hedgehogs, toads, bumble bees, slow worms and many species of ground nesting birds including skylark, lapwing, curlew and partridge. Dr. Stanton proposed no more than 1 main badger sett per 1 sq. km. and non at all within 750m of either senstive wildlife habitats or human housing.

So if farmers want a healthy, vibrant badger population, and conservationists appear to want the same - where is the conflict? Why the use of that emotive 'E' word? It polarises opinions - and that division now supports a £74 million industry, with a predicted growth rate of 20 percent p.a.

TB or not TB?

Six, five, four and even three months ago Defra were predicting a 20 percent year on year increase in bovine TB. But last week, that figure was amended to a drop of 14 percent during the first 4 months of 2004.

Down by a third on predictions? Are Defra really in control of the situation - or just the statistics?

After FMD in 2001 and little testing of cattle, then a big backlog of catching up in 2002/2003, the last data which Defra do NOT warn against using for comparisons is 2000. And using Defra's own website figures, compared with that year, cattle slaughterings for Tb increased by a staggering 149 percent - or 25 percent per year.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Government accused of hiding rise in bovine TB

By Sarah Probert, Birmngham Post

Countryside campaigners have accused the Government of inefficiency and neglect for failing to highlight the growing problem of bovine TB in the West Midlands.

The Country, Land and Business Association said the failure of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to publish figures on the extent of TB in each county could be an attempt to play down the extent of the problem.

The organisation said Defra had failed to update its county figures for two years and the only indication that the disease was escalating was the number of farmers reporting the problem to the CLA.

The Government publishes monthly national figures on bovine TB as well as statistics for the West region, which takes in the West Midlands counties, Devon and Cornwall, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

No individual figures for Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire - where the disease is most prolific in the region - have been available for two years.

A spokesman for Defra denied it had been hiding the figures and insisted updated numbers on TB cases for each county would be published shortly. He said the procedures for calculating TB cases was difficult and took time to collate.

The CLA voiced its concerns as a consultation on dealing with TB closed earlier this month.

Frances Beatty, regional director of the CLA, said: "In the West Midlands the disease has become a major problem - particularly in the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire - and continues to spread unabated across our members' dairy herds.

"The acceleration in the number of cases over the last two years is borne out by the number of farmers reporting incidents and an increase in the national figures.

"But this increase is hard to corroborate since the figures for the number of incidents per county have not been released by Defra for the last two years. This at very least shows inefficiency and neglect. Or could it be an attempt to play down the figures and hence the extent of the problem?"

She added: "One of our greatest concerns is that the foot-and-mouth epidemic cost the Government £100 million, with compensation being paid for loss of four per cent of the national herd.

"Now bovine TB is substantially draining the public purse and is set to continue, if not increase. Something must be done."

A spokesman for Defra said: "I can categorically state that there is no way that we are hiding any figures. The figures for the West region are placed on the website monthly.

"They only finalise the statistics when 95 per cent of records are all complete. TB is not a straight forward disease to test for and it takes time to get a break down on figures."