THERE has been much written in the media recently about the culling of animals in an attempt to control the very serious problem of tuberculosis in cattle.

Last year, 34,183 animals were culled because of TB. They were all cattle. This number is certain to increase if actions are not taken as this number is five times the number killed in 1998.

There has also been a cost to taxpayers of about £500 million.

The Government’s TB eradication policy announced in September 2011 includes tighter cattle controls, badger vaccination and two pilot areas where badgers will be culled – all three elements are needed to tackle TB and reduce the level of disease.

Government policy is based on science from years of study, including the Randomised Badger Control Trials. In 2011 Defra concluded that ‘The scientific evidence from the RBCT suggests that proactive badger culling, done on a sufficient geographical scale, in a widespread, co-ordinated and efficient way, and over a sustained period of time of at least four years, will reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high incidence areas’.

Vaccination is part of this package, but it will not work on its own. Vaccination won’t work on an animal that already has TB. No one has arrived at the decision to cull badgers lightly and everyone involved takes the issue extremely seriously.

Culling is unpalatable to many, but it is the only way to reduce the level of disease that exists in the areas where TB is persistent and high.

Thankfully, bovine TB is not as serious a problem in Ryedale and for this reason, local farmers are happy to live with the existing badger population as migration of the wildlife into the area would increase the risk of spread of disease.

One of the reasons farmers choose their occupation is the closeness to nature and there is a genuine appreciation of the wildlife in the countryside. There is, however, an understanding that the suffering and killing of cattle cannot continue and the loss of food production is something the public should be concerned about.

Rob Hicks, Ryedale NFU, Pickering