Rural Matters: NFU Warns of Growing TB Threat; Farming Leaders Yesterday Criticised the Government for Its Poor Handling of the Bovine Tuberculosis Epidemic in Britain. Sarah Probert, Who Attended the National Farmers' Union Annual Conference at the NEC, Looks at Their Proposals for a Badger Cull to Stop What Has Become the Biggest Animal Health Problem in the Country

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NFU President Sir Ben Gill yesterday called on the Government to take drastic action to stop the suffering of farmers, cattle and wildlife caught up in an epidemic of bovine tuberculosis which is sweeping the country.

Sir Ben called for a cull of badgers in areas where the disease has become most prevalent and also called for a complete survey of the badger population to be carried out to help estimate the extent of the possible threat to the national cattle herd.

Launching the NFU's own scientific report into the disease, Sir Ben urged Ministers to look at vaccinating cattle within infected areas in a bid to curtail the spread of bovine TB cases, which are rising by 20 per cent a year.

In certain areas of the country, such as Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, about one quarter of cattle farmers have been affected by the disease.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett yesterday admitted it had become the biggest animal heath problem in the country and said she was open to 'radical solutions', such as culling, to rid the country of the disease.

Last November, the Government was forced to abandon culling trials, which were due to end next year, after scientists revealed killing badgers only spread the disease further.

The trials were set up at the suggestion of Sir John Krebs, now chairman of the Food Standards Agency, who reported in detail on the possible interactions between cattle, badgers and TB.

Sir Ben said: 'It has become increasingly clear that the Krebs trials have not been properly implemented - although they have demonstrated the clear link between badgers and bovine TB - and we believe it should stop immediately.

'Given the dramatic increase in the incidents of the disease that have occurred in the last two years it is abundantly clear that the current situation cannot be allowed to continue.

'The suffering of cattle, wildlife and humans caught up in this saga has now reached a stage where drastic action is needed.'

Sir Ben said the Government should divide the country into three colour-coded areas - yellow, amber and red - based on the level of disease in different regions. …