The Standing Committee
of the Bern Convention, has concluded that the UK's badger culling trial
is in accordance with the Convention. Last year the Committee recommended
that the trial, which is part of the Government's strategy to research
and control bovine tuberculosis (TB), should be investigated to see
whether a possible breach had occurred.
Speaking in London,
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said: "I welcome this outcome. The
Standing Committee has today confirmed that the badger culling trial
is compatible with the Bern Convention. We were confident this would
prove to be the case. The trial is an important component of our long-term
strategy to deal with the growing problem of bovine TB. Only by pursuing
it can we hope to answer the crucial question of the role badgers play
in transmitting the disease to cattle. We are happy to agree to the
Committee's request to report annually on the Government's strategy
for controlling TB, including the badger-culling trial. Bovine TB is
a serious and complex disease, and the more we can share knowledge about
it with our international partners the better."
During an extensive
debate the Standing Committee considered issues such as the effect the
trial would have on the national and local badger populations; the possible
outcome of the trial; and the wide range of other measures the UK has
put in place to research the causes of TB incidents in cattle herds.
The Committee concluded that the file should be closed, but asked that
the Government keep it updated on this issue on an annual basis. Environment
Minister Michael Meacher welcomed the Standing Committee's decision:
"The UK takes its responsibilities under the Convention very seriously,
and we were pleased to have a chance to explain our position in detail.
The badger trial has been designed with great care by independent experts,
taking full account of animal welfare considerations, to limit its coverage
to that which is absolutely necessary."
The Bern Convention
on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats was agreed
in 1979 in the framework of the Council of Europe. It currently has
40 contracting parties from across Europe and Africa. It operates through
a Standing Committee which meets annually in Strasbourg. Non-governmental
organisations have full speaking rights.
The badger culling
trial is one element of the Government's five point TB research and
control strategy: minimise the risk to humans, develop a TB vaccine,
carry out research into the transmission of the disease continue, and
where possible strengthen, existing cattle controls carry out a badger
culling trial and related research The trial is designed to answer a
number of questions about the dynamics of bovine TB in both cattle and
badgers, and to deal with two key issues: the quantitative contribution
of badgers to the incidence of TB in cattle, and whether, and in what
circumstances, culling badgers works to help control the disease.
The trial and the
Government's wider TB research programme are based on expert advice
from two independent scientific committees chaired by Professor John
Krebs and Professor John Bourne respectively. In December 1998 the Standing
Committee of the Convention passed a recommendation calling on the UK
to suspend the trial for a year, explore other satisfactory solutions
for the control of bovine TB, and inform the Committee on the compatibility
of the trial with the Convention. The Government submitted its detailed
response on 8 July 1999.