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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Badger cull faces a new legal challenge

The BBC are reporting that the Badger Trust has won leave to appeal against the legal judgement that backed the Welsh Government's proposed badger cull in Nortn Pembrokeshire.

The appeal is against the outcome of a judicial review held in April, which upheld the government's right to mount the cull. The Badger Trust argued that Welsh Government and Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones had not shown that a cull would "eliminate or substantially reduce" the rate of TB infection, as the law meant it had to; and that ministers had a duty to weigh the harm to the badger population against the possible benefits to farmers, but had not done so.

It seems that Mr Justice Elias agreed that these two points were "arguable", and granted the Trust leave to appeal. Despite this the Government say that they are going ahead with their operation to kill badgers as planned.
Yet more costs for the taxpayer. A badger cull won't bring a long-term solution to farmers. This issue is now getting out of hand. What is needed is for all resources to be put into a vaccination programme for cattle and the phasing put of the existing testing regime. It would appear that the main reason for the reluctance to start a vaccination programme for cattle means that the existing skin test would have to be phased out, as vaccinated cattle would show up as positive reactors. HOWEVER it must be remembered that the skin test is not a perfect test, and yet the overall TB status off an area is based solely on the results of this test, ie the test defines the TB status of an area. The test indicates that the animal has mounted an immune response capable of recognising M. bovis and does not conclude actual infection. It means that animals may have been exposed to a bacterium that can cause TB at some point in their life (or have been vaccinated!).

Current EU regulations mean that vaccinated cattle could not be exported to the rest of the EU, as current tests cannot distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals. In reality this does not matter for meat and dairy products as pasteurisaion and cooking kills the bacteria that causes bTB.The only products at risk would be those used in their raw state. Indeed many countries, where bTB is endemic or only controlled, export products to the UK.

We must therefore conclude that real reason for the existing eradication policy is to protect the market for live exports of cattle, and to comply with existing EU regulations which insist on its countries achieving TB-free status. Obviously countries that do not have bTB are unlikely to want to risk importing any infected cattle, how ever small the risk. However, if one looks at the export figures for Great Britain over the last few years it is difficult how such a decision can be justified in cost terms for the UK.

In 2006 89,567 cattle were exported with a value of £3,332,000

In 2007 85,487 cattle were exported with a value of £2,548,1457

In 2008 51.809 cattle were exported with a value of £31,457,000

The numbers and value is falling year-on-year and, even more surprising, is the fact that the value of this market is considerably less than the annual costs of the existing eradication policy for bTB. Surely this makes a vaccination programme for cattle viable and an appropriate case should be made to the EU in this respect? Of course it would need to be approved by the politicians, farming unions, veterinary professions and EU - and here we hit the stumbling blocks ....
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