Farming minister Jim Paice said: “Bovine TB is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses and families, especially in the West and South West of England. Last year 25,000 cattle were slaughtered because of the disease, and it cost the taxpayer over £63 million in England alone.
“We can’t go on like this. It’s clear that the current approach has failed to stop the spread of this terrible disease. We need to take urgent action to halt its spread.
“No single measure will be enough to tackle the disease on its own. But the science is clear: there is no doubt that badgers are a significant reservoir for the disease and without taking action to control the disease in them, it will continue to spread. No country in the world has eradicated bovine TB without dealing with the reservoir in wildlife. That’s why I’m today launching a consultation on how we can tackle the disease in badgers.”
“A decision on our approach will be taken following the consultation. I intend to publish a comprehensive and balanced bovine TB eradication programme early in 2011.”
The consultation proposes issuing licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable farmers and landowners to cull badgers, at their own expense.
Under the government’s new proposal, they will be able to use vaccination either on its own or in combination with culling. However, culling will only be allowed in areas where there is a high incidence of bovine TB in cattle.
Paice added that vaccination alone would not reduce the disease as quickly as culling, but used in conjunction, he said it would maximise the effectiveness of badger control in reducing bovine TB in cattle.
The move is likely to provoke anger among animal campaigners, however Paice said culling will have to be carried out in a humane and animal welfare friendly way, with only either cage trapping and shooting or the shooting of free-running badgers allowed.