The UK’s National Farmers Union (NFU) has this morning cited Ireland’s badger controls as justification for culling in the UK to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) to cattle.

In a letter from NFU President Peter Kendall to its members today, he said: “I hope that when time shows that these culls have reduced TB in cattle – just as has happened in Ireland – that even more people will understand that while sad, these culls are absolutely necessary.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the UK announced today that the culls have already begun in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place, we won’t get on top of this terrible disease until we start dealing with the infection in badgers as well as in cattle. That’s the clear lesson from Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the US.”

According to DEFRA, Last year more than 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in England due to bovine TB, but the disease is continuing to spread with new herd incidents in Britain rising from 1,075 in 1996, to 5,171 in 2012.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, between 1996 and 2006 some 4,000 badgers were culled in Ireland each year. From 2007 onwards this figure increased to more than 6,000 per year.  In the same period TB incidents in Ireland dropped by half. The Government attributes the drop, at least in part, to the culling of badgers. Full information here.

Pictured generic Friesian weanling heifers. Photo O’Gorman Photography