Badger culls could be allowed in cattle disease ‘hotspots’ in East Anglia, says Defra

PUBLISHED: 11:22 25 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:24 25 May 2018

Badger culls could be extended into the Low Risk Area in the East of England, says Defra. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Badger culls could be extended into the Low Risk Area in the East of England, says Defra. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Licensed badger culling will be allowed in East Anglia for the first time if disease “hotspots” for bovine tuberculosis (TB) are identified in the region, says the government.

Badger culls have been controversially used to prevent the spread of the cattle disease in “high-risk” areas in the west of the country, however there have not yet been any government-backed culls in the east, where the risk of TB is lower.

But after completing a consultation as part of a review of its 25-year TB eradication strategy, Defra says it will now allow limited badger control “on a case-by-case basis” within the Low Risk Area (LRA), which includes Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Defra response to the consultation says: “The government’s view remains that enabling badger control in the LRA where disease in badgers is linked with infected herds is a rational extension of the TB strategy to eradicate bovine TB. The consultation responses have not provided new or compelling evidence to change that view.”

Defra received 832 responses to its consultation, of which 32pc were from individuals or organisations that stated that they supported wildlife, welfare or conservation, but only 3pc were farmers or from farming organisations.

It says about 16pc of responses “appear to have been submitted in response to email and postal campaigns initiated by wildlife or welfare organisations”.

The majority of respondents were opposed to the proposal, with groups including the Animal Welfare Group, The Badger Trust and Born Free saying there is no evidence that badgers are a risk to cattle in the LRA, so culls were not justified.

But most of the responses from the farming community were supportive of extending badger control to the LRA, with groups including the National Farmers Union, the British Veterinary Association, and the National Beef Association stressing the importance of tackling the disease both in cattle and in wildlife.

Defra says new guidance has been given to Natural England on licences to control the risk of bovine TB from badgers, adding: “Badger control in the LRA is expected to only be permitted in a very small number of areas that are identified as ‘hotspots’ by Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) veterinary epidemiologists.

“The government’s objective for the LRA is to continue to protect it from the ingress of disease through the movement of cattle and the possible resulting infection of wildlife vectors. Sporadic cases of bovine TB do occur in the LRA, mostly due to movements of TB-infected cattle that escape detection through routine and pre-movement cattle testing. Where a case is identified, the objective is to stamp it out quickly.

“Once a ‘potential hotspot’ is identified we implement a suite of additional cattle measures, including six-monthly testing, pre-movement testing, use of interferon gamma tests, and wildlife surveillance. This is a long-standing policy and the extent and duration of the enhanced TB surveillance in such areas (‘potential hotspots’) will differ from case to case, based on expert veterinary judgement and epidemiological assessments.”

READ MORE: Could controversial badger culls be extended to East Anglia?

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