Yesterday, veterinary surgeon Dr Gallagher and 350 other vets sent an open letter to the Secretary of State for Defra, demanding immediate action over the growing epidemic of TB.
The Conservative Party has immediately come out in support of the vets with the following statement:
England, Wales and Ireland are in the grip of a major epidemic which the Government predicts will cost £2,000,000,000 over the next ten years, without being cured. Although it may be "invisible", this does not reduce its impact. It is causing massive disruption in the cattle industry and catastrophic harm to wildlife, especially in badgers and deer.
As Dr Gallagher and his colleagues point out, the disease has increased in cattle from 88 herds reported infected in 1986 to an estimated 3,000 last year with no sign of the increase in infection abating. According to the last known survey of badgers, up to one quarter of the adult population is infected with the disease.
If it is allowed to continue, the economic damage to the cattle industry and the nation will be even greater than it is now. The UK will risk losing its international disease-free status, with the result that the export of many dairy and related products will be banned or restricted. Wildlife will continue to suffer and the burden of disease will become overwhelming.
In accordance with the views of Dr Gallagher and his colleagues, therefore, we believe that the Secretary of State of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, can no longer avoid making decisions in the hope of staving off unpopular action until after the general election.
As the countryside is a managed environment and has been so for centuries, we believe that there is a duty to maintain this to a high standard; this includes care and control of the wildlife in it, the density and diversity of which is entirely the result of human intervention.
It is our view that the present policy of non-intervention, which is permitting the spread of Bovine TB in wildlife – in particular in badgers – is an abrogation of the duty of the Secretary of State to manage the countryside, which can no longer be sustained. There is now more than enough evidence to justify taking action.
We agree that we should bear down on the disease in cattle and support the use of pre movement testing. However, the reservoir of disease in wildlife should also be tackled through a structured wildlife management programme:
1. We agree with the vets that the current Krebs trials are compromised. On coming to power we would require all available data to be published and peer reviewed before deciding to continue with the trials.
2. Learning from the recent Irish “Four Counties” trials and earlier trials in England and Ireland, targeted badger culling should be resumed immediately in hotspot areas.
3. The effectiveness of BCG vaccination of wild badger populations should be evaluated.
4. Work should continue with urgency into an effective cattle vaccine.
5. Immediate trials should be launched into the use of PCR technology to detect the disease in badgers, enabling culling to be selective.
Our primary aim will be the reestablishment of effective management of the countryside in the interests of wildlife, the cattle industry and the nation.
We cannot condone spending £2 billion over the next ten years in not controlling this epidemic.