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Figures fuel badger cull criticism
The Government faced renewed criticism of its controversial badger cull as figures showed new tuberculosis outbreaks in cattle had reached a decade low.
New figures showed the monthly incidence rate for bovine TB in England, which measures the proportion of new outbreaks discovered through testing, was around 3.25% in March 2014, the lowest rate since 2004.
It follows a similarly low rate in February of 3.5%, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
Ministers said the statistics showed that controls as part of the bovine TB eradication strategy were beginning to make a difference, and announced proposals for new measures to further tighten up movement controls on cattle.
But animal welfare campaigners said the figures showed there was no justification for the badger cull, which is being piloted in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
The Government insists badger culling is needed as part of a strategy to eradicate TB in cattle in England.
But experts assessing the first year of the two pilot culls found that it was not humane and failed to kill the number of badgers, which can spread the disease to cattle, needed to reduce infection in herds.
Farming Minister George Eustice said the statistics showed that the controls in the bovine TB eradication strategy were beginning to make a difference and the new measures would help even more to "bring this devastating disease under control".
"However we cannot become complacent," he said.
"The impact of bovine TB on our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated. That is why must do everything we can to reach our aim of making the whole of England TB free."
But campaigners said the latest figures, which also revealed significant reductions in the number of cattle being slaughtered because of TB in Somerset and Gloucestershire, did not justify a badger cull.
Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: "These are pretty sensational figures and highly significant.
"There is no way that the badger culls from last year could have influenced these numbers at all, so the drop is purely because of the tighter farming controls that have come in over the last couple of years.
"If I was in the Government I'd be shouting these numbers from the rooftops, but unfortunately they would rather keep quiet - because these figures don't justify a badger cull."
He suggested any farmer told that following a few rules could lead to the number of cattle being slaughtered for TB to be halved - as happened in Somerset in January to March this year, compared to the same period in 2013 - would take it.
"So let's now direct all our energy to ensuring that we repeat this success across the country, by doing what works, and not focusing on a badger cull which will achieve nothing."
He added that while tackling the disease in cattle worked, testing was flawed as it could miss infected cows, and the problem needed to be sorted out before bovine TB could be eradicated.