SEPTEMBER 5, 2008: The row over bovine TB has stepped up a gear with DEFRA coming under renewed attack over the issue.

There is mounting concern in the farming and veterinary communities that the Government’s refusal to sanction a badger cull has left the industry defenceless against a disease that is already having a big impact on productivity and the ability to trade cattle.A number of developments have highlighted the disillusionment generated by Defra Secretary Hilary Benn’s decision. These include:• SCoFCAH, the Brussels committee on food and animal health this week discussed the possibility of further sanctions on live cattle exports in response to the discovery of bTB-infected cattle exported to Holland from the UK.• Thousands of dairy bull calves are shot in the UK as a result of the unofficial veal export ban imposed by the Dutch and Belgians.• The latest figures from Defra show a 40 per cent year-on-year rise in the number of cattle slaughtered because of bTB this year.• A paper has been submitted for publication in a medical journal on the possible ‘re-emergence of an old zoonotic threat’, a reference to the risks to humans and pets from bTB. It is based on the case of a veterinary nurse and her dog, from Cornwall, who contracted bTB earlier this year.• The NFU has launched the first formal steps towards mounting a full High Court legal challenge to the decision not to cull badgers.• An NFU Freedom of Information request has shown that 11 licences have been issued to cull badgers since 2003, but none of them have been granted to farmers.• A Defra vet has described morale within Animal Health as being at ‘rock bottom’ because of the inability to deal with the source of bTB spread.Neil Parish, chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, said: “The Government’s dithering is putting British farmers at increasing risk of EU restrictions, and potentially an export ban.”NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said Defra’s failure to cull badgers was a ‘gross dereliction of duty’ that was resulting in a ‘huge waste’ of productive animals. “The Government is fiddling, while the industry burns. We are going to challenge this decision in the courts,” he was quoted as saying.Defra said: “It is recognised that bTB is on the increase and we are committed to working in partnership with the farming industry on what action can be taken.”

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