THE Government has come under intense scrutiny since the pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire were announced. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson explains why the cull is vital.
BOVINE TB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK.
What was once a disease isolated to small pockets – in 1972 only 0.01 per cent of cattle tested as infected – has now spread to counties beyond Gloucestershire's borders and will continue to spread across England unless we take more decisive action.
The number of new cases is doubling every nine years and in the last decade we have slaughtered 305,000 cattle across Great Britain.
Bovine TB cost the taxpayer nearly £100 million in 2012.
Every day farmers in Gloucestershire are dealing with the heartbreaking effects of bovine TB on their herds.
Infection has a devastating impact on the dairy and cattle industries, causing financial and emotional misery for farmers and rural communities.
If we go on like this we will see more farmers forced to shut down.
It's a sad fact that badgers are very effective at spreading TB, and it only takes one diseased badger to put a whole herd of cattle under TB restrictions.
We know that Gloucestershire is a TB hotspot – more than 10 per cent of TB tests on herds here come out positive.
As other countries make progress, the problem of bTB is getting worse in Britain.
This is despite us having stringent measures in place restricting the movement of cattle and ensuring all infected cattle are slaughtered.
It is clear that if we are to tackle this deadly bacterium, we must use every tool at our disposal. Vaccination also has a part to play and is something that we would all like to deploy more widely, but unfortunately it's not there yet in terms of either development or practicality.
We do have an injectable badger vaccine but it is difficult to use because it requires badgers to be trapped and vaccinated every year.
More importantly, vaccines don't cure sick badgers, so the significant proportion of badgers with TB in hotspot areas will continue to spread the disease for years.
Leading scientists in this country agree that if carried out in the right way, badger culling can lead to a reduced level of TB in cattle.
That's why we've taken the decision to undertake two pilot culls in the TB hotspots of Gloucestershire and Somerset.
The pilot culls, which are now underway, are intended to assess the humaneness, effectiveness and safety of controlled shooting as a method of badger control.
The effects of bovine TB are tragic not just because the disease destroys herds and livelihoods, but also because they are no longer unusual.
To stop these terrible blows to our cattle and dairy industry being repeated we must do whatever we can to stamp out this disease once and for all.