Badger cull in TB battle begins despite opposition
CONTROVERSIAL culling of badgers to tackle tuberculosis in cattle has finally got under way in the face of angry opposition.
National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said yesterday that the first pilot badger control operations had begun, in a move he described as "very important" for beef and dairy farmers.
No information was given on where shooting of badgers had begun, but licences have been given for two pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, with around 5,000 badgers set to be killed in a six-week period across the two areas.
If the culls – delayed last year by bad weather, the need for police to focus on the Olympics and new information on badger numbers – are judged to be effective and humane, culling could be rolled out across TB "hotspot" areas.
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Farmers and the Government insist culling of badgers, which can spread TB to cattle, is needed to stop spiralling rates of the disease in herds.
But opponents say culling the protected animal will have only a small effect on infection rates in cattle and will lead to badgers suffering. They want the emphasis to be on vaccines and tighter on-farm and cattle movement measures.
Demonstrators turned out in large numbers at the two pilot sites to protest against the cull and animal welfare campaigners reacted angrily to news the shooting of badgers had begun.
Mr Kendall said: "We understand passions run high, but we'd ask protesters to remember not just the 5,000 badgers we're talking about culling in these two pilot areas, but the 38,000 cattle slaughtered, and the emotional damage this disease does to farmers and their families who see not just a lifetime's work being destroyed but often many generations' work being destroyed."
He said farmers were prepared to use whatever resources were available, and saw the development of a vaccine for TB as a complementary measure in the longer term, but it is not available today.
"There's absolutely clear-cut evidence that wherever in the world where TB has been dramatically rolled back or eradicated, it involves a combination of measures: biosecurity, restrictions on cattle movements but also reducing the reservoir of disease in wildlife," he said.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said bovine TB was spreading across the country and "devastating" the cattle and dairy industries.
He said the UK would not get on top of the disease until infection in badgers as well as cattle is tackled, and pointed to Australia, New Zealand and Ireland where TB has been successfully addressed with culling as part of the measures used.
Mr Paterson said the Government was aiming to eradicate TB from England in 25 years, with culling playing an important part in the strategy to tackle the disease. Culling could be rolled out more widely next year if the pilots are a success, he said.
But animal welfare charity the RSPCA labelled the cull as "misguided", saying it would not tackle the problem of TB in cattle. It also warned the methods of shooting free-running badgers was not humane.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: "The most tragic thing is that this suffering is so needless. 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."