Monday, May 07, 2007

Lifting the moratorium?

When Sir John Krebs, he of the RBCT fame, outlined his 'trial' in 1997, and the diminutive figure of Prof. John Bourne took up the helm, a moratorium on badger control outside the designated trial areas was snuck into British law. It was not subject to parliamentary discussion, statutory instrument or anything as democratic as that. It just happened. with gov'ment blithely and arrogantly stating in an answer to PQ's posed, that "it was government policy not to issue licences".

The badger dispersal trial has now finished and in mid June, Prof. Bourne will sing his swan song - maybe.

But in preparation for that, farmers from Cornwall to North Staffordshire are preparing, it is said, to test whether this moratorium has been snuck away as quickly as it had been put into place.

The TELEGRAPH reports:

"In the expectation of an imminent end to the moratorium on licences to kill badgers, farmers have earmarked areas of the country where the cull could begin, while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is conducting four secret trials to find which is the most effective ways of killing badgers - snaring, trapping, shooting or gassing.

A move to permit culling, however, would be certain to provoke ferocious opposition from animal welfare groups, who insist it is not necessary and believe the spread of the disease is due to bad husbandry by farmers.

The Government research, by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG), began in 1998 and was accompanied by the moratorium on licences. However, the final report, which ministers will receive later this month, is expected to acknowledge that culling badgers can be an effective means of controlling the disease. Defra officials have already indicated to industry figures that following its publication they would struggle to justify continuing the moratorium.

Tony Blair and David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, have been involved in discussions about lifting the moratorium. The Cabinet will make the final decision.

There were 788 new suspected outbreaks in January and February compared with 703 in the same period of last year. There are reports of the disease spreading to domestic cats, which has provoked fears that this could lead to infections among humans.

Meurig Raymond, the NFU's deputy president, said: "The Government can't walk away from its responsibility this time. The scientific evidence from the report will prove they must act. The anger and depression of the livestock industry is unbelievable. We need to move ahead with a cull as soon as possible."

Malcolm Light, a beef farmer from Okehampton in Devon, suffered an outbreak in his herd last month, which has been blamed on badgers.

"It's not beyond the realms of possibility to get on top of this disease," he said. "We want healthy cattle and healthy badgers, but we must be able to deal with sick badgers."

Although the ISG report is expected to say that removing badgers can play a positive role in tackling the disease, it will also warn of the possible dangers of perturbation, where badgers that escape the cull relocate elsewhere and help to spread the disease.

This will give farmers two options: to apply for a licence to cull in a large area of more than 116 square miles, where research suggests the benefits of culling outweigh the effects of perturbation, or to demand small, targeted culls, in areas which are bordered by rivers, railways or coastlines.

Richard Haddock, the union's south-west regional chairman, said: "The hints we're getting are that there will be limited licences issued. If they allow us targeted culls against the sick setts in the hot spots, then in two years, we will be on top of it."

Richard Yarnell, the chief executive of the Badger Trust, said the problem could only be dealt with by stopping the disease spreading between cattle".

And this may be the place to remind our Minister for animal health - well some animals anyway - of his erudite words to Parliament in December 2005:

"International experience indicates it is not possible to contain and eradicate bovine TB if its background presence in wildlife is left unaddressed."


"The scientific evidence shows that intensive culling of badgers over large areas can be effective".

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