Government criticised over badger cull

Animal rights’ charities slammed the government yesterday, following the first evening of the pilot badger cull.

Up to 5,500 badgers will be killed in the cull areas over a six-week period in Somerset and Gloucestershire, carried out to ascertain if culling by marksman is humane. Yet critics have said it is the “worst agricultural policy seen in 30 years”.

As a result, organisations such as Care for the Wild (CFTW), the Badger Trust and the RSPCA, are set against the culls and the science that backs them.

CEO of CFTW Philip Mansbridge claimed the culls were based on scientific evidence that said culling badgers would have no meaningful impact on disease. “This cull is literally a shot in the dark. They [the government] are ‘hoping’ that it will help, but it’s just as likely to make things worse,” he said.

Misled public

Mansbridge also expressed his concern that the public were being misled by the government. Adding: “The government claims that a cull has worked in Ireland, where half the country’s badgers have been killed for a small reduction in TB – but the same reduction was achieved across the border in Northern Ireland without a single badger being killed.”

Meanwhile, CFTW policy advisor Dominic Dyer, who has worked at the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), wrote on Politics.co.uk that the badger cull policy was “totally flawed” and built on “three pillars of sand: negligence, incompetence and deceit”.

He also claimed that the government had no plans to test any of the badgers shot in the next six weeks for TB. “This is despite the fact that the NFU and wildlife conservation groups are calling for tests to be undertaken,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said in a statement: “Science has shown that this cull is not the answer to bovine TB in cattle. In fact, it could make things a lot worse. Vaccination and better bio-security are the only sustainable and true ways forward.”

A spokesman from the Badger Trust said it was determined as ever to fight the cull. He said its members would “scrutinise everything that happens and the Trust will continue to take the best legal and scientific advice”.

Nationwide badger cull

However, the government’s overall aim of a nationwide badger cull is to curb TB spreading from badgers to cattle, as over 28,000 cattle have been slaughtered in England because of the disease.

Government and scientists believe culling badgers will help stem the problem and Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “Bovine TB is an infectious disease that is spreading across the country and devastating our cattle and dairy industries.

“We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place, we won’t get on top of this terrible disease until we start dealing with the infection in badgers as well as in cattle.”

Yet, Paterson stressed that the cull was the most realistic option at the moment and said: “If we had a workable vaccine, we would use it. A badger vaccine would have no effect on the high proportion of sick badgers in TB hotspots, which would continue to spread the disease. We are working on new badger and cattle vaccines, but they are years away from being ready and we cannot afford to wait while TB gets worse.”