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WMN opinion: Cold, hard science is only way to solve the bovine TB crisis

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 12, 2014

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There is, understandably, a great deal of emotion around the rural crisis of bovine TB.

We regularly report, in the Western Morning News, the anguish of farming families whose businesses are damaged and herds lost as a result of the disease.

We report too, the anger and distress of animal campaigners who seek to protect badgers from being culled as part of the disease eradication policy.

There are plenty of armchair experts ready with a ‘solution’ to the crisis; plenty of critics only too happy to lambaste the way the Government is attempting to deal with it.

Indeed the WMN itself has cast itself in both roles over the years.

For a cool, clear and pretty well unvarnished assessment of how we have got to where we are now with this disease and how we might be able to rid ourselves of it, many would do well to read the words of Defra’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens in today’s news pages and in the newspaper’s farming pages in the days to come.

Because if he was able to highlight one thing in a briefing statement yesterday it was that bovine TB is only ever going to be solved by science.

All the emotion, hunches, hopes and dreams – however understandable and well-intentioned – are not going to do the job, whether they come from the farming community, the animal welfare organisations or anyone else.

There may be good reasons to criticise successive administrations, Conservative and Labour, for mistakes made in the past.

There is certainly a case to be made for saying that both the countryside and government have been too complacent about bovine TB and, indeed all animal and plant diseases, in days gone by.

That there is now a proper plan in place, however, is something to be grateful for.

At its heart is the attempt to strike a balance between eradicating disease and keeping the UK’s cattle industry alive.

It would be possible to cull all cattle – and indeed all badgers – in the Westcountry’s TB hotspots and dramatically reduce the disease at a stroke.

But it would suicidal for the farming industry and unacceptable to most people in the countryside. Getting that balance right is going to get more difficult as time goes by, but it will remain essential.

The emotion and the anger won’t go away and both help to remind everyone – politicians and civil servants included – that this is a disease that has real and damaging consequences.

In the end, however, it will be cool heads that solve the crisis.

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