THE Argus hit out against proposals for a badger cull in Wales and called for evidence from the Assembly to back up claims that badgers contaminate cattle with Bovine TB.

NATALIE CROCKETT asked the Assembly’s chief vet to justify the decision and answer our readers’ concerns.

Earlier this month Assembly ministers voted in favour of plans to trap and shoot badgers in north Pembrokeshire as part of a programme to eradicate bovine TB.

The Intensive Action Pilot Area (IAPA) proposal aims to tackle the disease in both cattle and badgers and the final decision will be made by rural affairs minister Elin Jones.

If given the go-ahead the pilot will introduce tighter controls on cattle alongside badger culling, including annual testing and the removal of infected cattle on farms within 10 days.

But action group Pembrokeshire Against the Cull (PAC) has accused the Assembly of bowing to pressure from cull-obsessed farmers and vets.

The Assembly’s chief vet, Dr Christianne Glossop, said there had been evidence of a link between cattle, badger and Bovine TB since the discovery of an infected badger carcass in Gloucestershire in 1971.

She said a report following a Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) in England carried out by the Independent Scientific Group from 1998 to 2005 showed a 23 percent decline in TB in cattle inside the cull area during the trial period and an additional 54 percent reduction in the two years after the trial.

She added that further research showed the rate of Bovine TB in the culling areas had continued to fall since the study was carried out. But Newport West MP, Paul Flynn, who is against the cull, said the RBCT was clear in its conclusion that said culling badgers made no difference to the spread of the disease.

He said this view was supported by national government, which is why there are no proposals to cull badgers in England.

Mr Flynn said a previous cull in Ireland did not help the problem and said instances of the disease were higher there than in Northern Ireland where no cull was carried out.

But Dr Glossop said the Intensive Action Pilot Area (IAPA) proposal for North Pembrokeshire aimed to tackle the disease in both cattle and badgers, which the RBCT failed to do.

She said the combined approach had worked to reduce TB in New Zealand and had eradicated the disease in Australia.

She added the Assembly was looking at developing an oral vaccination for badgers but said this would only work in badgers which weren’t already infected.

But Mr Flynn said the Assembly was looking for a quick fix to the problem, which would only make the situation worse.

He said: “It is a simple solution, when you have a problem in the countryside you kill animals. It’s unscientific and will be counter productive.

“She (Dr Glossop) is looking at exactly the same evidence as Westminster and has come to a different conclusion.

“They (the Assembly) are seizing an instant solution that will make the situation worse.”

Mr Flynn added the Assembly was surrendering to outside pressure from rural West Wales rather than listening to the scientific evidence and the proven results of previous badger culls.

Dr Glossop refuted claims that the Assembly had bowed to pressure and added that 85 per cent of people in Wales who responded to a survey agreed that a badger cull could play a part in reducing TB cattle in TB endemic areas.

She said: “We are talking about a potential public health problem, a massive epidemic, huge expenditure for the government, the tax payer and farmers.

“We have to take this disease seriously and I feel we are at a cross roads. If we carry on with what we have been doing we may as well give up and that has implications for public health, food production and compensation costs.

“I am satisfied that we have the evidence that we need. We don’t need anymore details we need to get on with dealing with the epidemic.”

The scale of the disease in Gwent

* 910 cattle herds in Gwent registered on Vetnet.
* On July 31, 2009 there were a total of 150 herds in Gwent under TB restrictions.
* There were 780 herd tests carried out during this period which represent 85,994 individual cattle tests in Gwent alone.
* 71 new TB herd incidents in this period.
* 63 confirmed new incidents in 2008.
* 605 cattle slaughtered in Gwent since January 2009 as aa result of Bovine TB.
* £2,647,846 paid in compensation to farmers in Gwent, 2008-09 representing around 11 percent of all the TB compensation paid in the whole of Wales.