By Marian Jones on Jun 22, 11 10:05 AM

The Farmers' Union of Wales today reacted angrily to Welsh Government plans to appoint a panel to review the science in relation to a planned badger cull in north Pembrokeshire and other Welsh bTB measures.

Speaking outside the National Assembly after the announcement by Minister John Griffiths, FUW TB spokesman and vice president Brian Walters said: "The previous policy was based on firm scientific evidence which shows badger culling in north Pembrokeshire would significantly reduce TB in cattle.

"The latest scientific evidence, released in April this year, simply reinforces that previously policy.

"It shows a 31.5% reduction in confirmed TB herd incidences in English badger culling areas over the four and a half year period after badger culling ended, and a reduction of 37% in the six months to March 2011.

"Cattle farmers are being crippled by this disease, are incurring massive extra costs and are seeing their businesses locked down, particularly in north Pembrokeshire where harsh restrictions have been in place for well over a year.

"Yet we seem to be procrastinating over the major obstacle to disease eradication, which is the massive presence of TB in badgers."

According to the latest available statistics on TB in cattle and badgers across Wales, the rate of TB in badgers is around 32 times higher than it is in cattle.

Mr Walters added that, while the FUW fully supports the development of a practical and effective badger vaccine, no vaccine candidate had yet been shown to be worthwhile.

"Some people are giving out extremely misleading statements which suggest that we could be reducing TB incidences by vaccination as we speak.

"Important progress was made public in November last year when a paper on catching and injecting badgers with BCG vaccine was published.

"However, the scientists responsible made it clear that we did not yet know the effectiveness of vaccination as a tool by which to reduce TB incidences."

Mr Walters was referring to a briefing note, issued by the scientists responsible for the vaccine research, which stated that "...the field results cannot tell us the degree of vaccine efficacy...Several thousand badgers would need to be killed to determine the presence and severity of TB at detailed post-mortem examination...we do not know how deployment of the badger vaccine in the field would affect TB incidence in cattle...A large-scale vaccination field trial, at least on the scale of the RBCT, would be needed to scientifically assess the impact of badger vaccination on the incidence of disease in cattle".

Mr Walters said badger culling, therefore, remains the only tried and tested method of reducing TB herd outbreaks in an area where TB is present in badgers.

"While we have seen an encouraging reduction in cattle TB incidences over the past two years, the latest figures suggest that the disease may be on the rise again.

"In the past five years more than 44,000 cattle have been culled in Wales due to TB. At the disease rates present in the 1990s it would have taken between 50 and 100 years for us to reach this number.

"We cannot keep stalling matters in order to avoid difficult decisions in relation to culling badgers. We know badger culling works, and badgers are nowhere near being endangered.

"According to the experts, if we were to carry out a proper badger vaccine trial this would also involve culling thousands of badgers, but with no guarantee of a positive outcome."



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