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Feb 16 2005
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11:00 - 16 February 2005
Farmers have reacted angrily to claims that the unregulated movement of infected cattle has led to the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

The claims came from the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG), which said that the findings of the Government's Independent Scientific Group (ISG) support their views.

The ISG's fourth report into bovine TB has just been published and states: "It is likely that the appearance of TB strain types in new and distant geographic locations is a result of the movement of TB-infected cattle."

Dr Elaine King, chief executive of the NFBG, said: "The NFBG clearly warned in 2001 that allowing the rapid movement of untested cattle in the wake of foot and mouth disease would lead to a massive escalation in bovine TB. This report also reveals that the Government's own scientific advisors forcibly expressed this warning to the government but sadly, these warnings went unheeded."

Yesterday, Westcountry farmers hit back, pointing out that herds with bovine TB are under movement restrictions. They also said that cattle could not be considered on their own when it came to tackling bovine TB and other factors, including the spread of the disease by badgers and other wildlife, had to be taken into account.

Ian Johnson, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) spokesman in the South West, said: "We know that there can be cattle to cattle transmission and farmers are very mindful of their obligations as far as bio-security is concerned, but we also know that there is a huge reservoir of TB in wildlife. The problem of bovine TB needs to be dealt with in the round. That means looking at wildlife as well as cattle. There is no point in dealing with only half the occasion."

Dairy farmers Richard and Tracey Martin said the statement from the NFBG was "twaddle".

"If you have a disease in humans and you know what causes it you do something about it, but when it is a farming problem nobody does anything," said the couple, who farm in the Torrington area.

"Nobody spends years breeding cows just to lose them to a bullet. These are not milking machines - they are all individuals. This is our livelihood, but nobody seems interested."

Paul Griffith, the deputy chairman of the NFU in Devon, said that just after foot and mouth disease in 2001, cattle were moved at a time when TB testing had fallen behind. He added: "We should be asking the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) how there was a 16 per cent increase in TB in 2004 in Devon where cattle have been under restriction.

"We have had this massive increase in bovine TB. It is typical of the NFBG to be blinkered and not accept the science. In Ireland where they have had complete culling of badgers they have reduced the incidence of TB in cattle."

The report by the ISG, which is a group of independent scientists who advise Defra on how best to tackle the problem of cattle TB, challenges the department's performance in certain areas and also makes recommendations for future action to tackle the disease.

Ben Bradshaw, minister for animal health and welfare, said: "The Government's new TB strategy will be published shortly and the ISG's report will be considered, along with other evidence, in the delivery of the new strategy.

"The department will be discussing the recommendations with the group at the earliest opportunity. We will then consider them carefully while recognising that, in deciding future policy, we must also take issues such as cost and practicality into account."