10 September 2013, 20:26

Tuberculosis in UK cattle: Badger an extraordinary "effective excreter" of disease - Minister

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A scientific cull of badgers is underway in Somerset and Gloucestershire in the UK. Killing badgers is being trialed as a way to reduce incidents of Tuberculosis in cattle - something that the government says will cost the country over 1 billion pounds over the next decade unless it's addressed. But the plan is highly controversial with many activists and wildlife campaigners adamant that killing badgers is unnecessary, potentially cruel and unproven as a means of stopping the spread of bovine TB. The Voice of Russia asked Owen Paterson, the British Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he was totally convinced that a cull was the best solution.

Yes, I am completely convinced. I’ve been working on this issue for several years now when I was the Junior Spokesman of the opposition I asked 600 parliamentary questions on this issue and this is a matter that really interests me because I, probably unlike any of the Russian listeners, had two pet badgers as a child and I want to see healthy badgers living alongside healthy cattle.

If you look at any other country in the world which has a significant problem of bovine Tuberculosis in cattle, we’ve been the only country in recent years that has tried to address it by only killing badgers. We have very rigorous cattle movement controls, we have very regular testing in hotspot areas and we’ve slaughtered over 305.000 cattle in the last ten years.

But the disease continues to grow and the reason is obvious – we’ve not addressed the problem in wildlife.

But badgers are not the only factor, are they? I mean people tell us that there are other animals that may pass it on and that even reducing the badger population may result in this government approved figure of reduction of 16% of bovine TB.

No that is not accurate, you have to go after the main factors. If you look at Australia where they’ve got down to actually zero TB status now with the extraordinary vigorous campaign on feral cattle and water buffalo, I would say in New Zealand recently we saw what they’ve done to brushtail possum, they’ve got the number of cases in herds from 1760 down to 66.

A few years ago I went to Michigan, so what they’ve done with whitetail deer, they had only 2 cases in Michigan this year but much more important for us is the Irish experience where there were very significant slaughterings of TB infected cattle - over 40000, they’ve dropped now by 50% down to 18500 and they are looking to further 20% drop this year and the reason is they are addressing the disease in the wildlife.

The badger sadly is an extraordinarily effective excreter of this disease.

More than deer? Because we were also told that there is more deer in England now than there’s ever been particularly the feral species like Monkjack and chinese water deer, could they not be equally responsible?

They can be and we know the French and the Germans do cull deer which get Tuberculosis but the overwhelming preponderance of disease here rests in the badger population and until we can develop a vaccine for cattle and I’ve agreed to the program with the European commission that’s going to take at least 10 years.

I am attacked for not pressing button vaccine that is no button with vaccine marked on it. So, we do not have a clinically effective or legal cattle vaccine. There is a badger vaccine, which could have a real role to play and I’m interested what Irish do on that but it is only worth using badger vaccine once the raise of the disease has been reduced.

It is pointless, very expensive and totally ineffective injecting animals, which have disease, with vaccine. They carry on excreting the disease. So, what we’re doing with these 2 pilot culls is establish whether shooting by skilled vey carefully trained marksmen under tightly controlled circumstances is humane and effective.

And if it works I will be looking to extend these trials as well because we have to reduce the disease in wild life as we have done in cattle in order to arrive in the position of having healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers.

You’ve mentioned you’ve had pet badgers, you presumably understand why people tend to get over emotional, would you say, about the killing of badgers?

I find it completely incomprehensible that people would want these wonderful creatures to die long lingering measurable deaths from this horrible disease. This is a horrible unpleasant bacterium. It kills cattle and it kills badgers and I want to see healthy badgers living alongside healthy cattle.

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