Celebrities back calls to halt badger culls
More celebrities have backed campaigners opposing a badger cull to curb tuberculosis in cows that is endemic in the South West.
Actors Sir Roger Moore, Dame Judi Dench, Joanna Lumley, Brian Blessed, Martin Shaw, Anthony Head and Virginia McKenna have signed a statement calling on the Government to halt its plans.
Two "pilot" badger culls – one in Somerset, the other in Gloucestershire – are expected to begin any day now.
The protest comes as the Government revealed figures showing more than 15,000 cattle were slaughtered in Britain in the first five months of the year as a consequence of bovine tuberculosis (TB) devastating herds.
"These figures are further proof of why it is so important that we stop TB from spreading across the country," said Farming Minister David Heath.
"Every month thousands of cattle are slaughtered because of this disease at huge cost to our beef and dairy industries."
The joint statement, co-ordinated by the Badger Trust charity, has been signed by more than 100 celebrities, scientists, veterinarians and animal welfare and conservation groups.
The signatories ask the Government to focus on "more scientifically credible, humane and effective solutions to tackling bovine TB".
The statement reads: "We the undersigned ask the government to stop the badger cull and to implement instead the more sustainable and humane solution of vaccination, improved testing and better bio-security."
If the pilot culls are successful, up to ten licences will be issued each year for four years, possibly resulting in the killing of as many as 130,000 badgers according to Natural England.
Ministers have urged farmers in Devon and Cornwall to prepare for potential future culls.
A Stop the Cull petition was launched by Queen guitarist Dr Brian May, among the first well-known figures to stand up against culling.
He said: "On behalf of supporters of the Save-Me campaign and 263,000 signatories of the anti-badger cull petition on the Government's website, we would like to remind the Government that there is massive public opposition to this ill-fated cull, which, it is becoming ever more clear, will not be of any advantage to cattle or farmers.
"The Government is acting, for political motives, on a course which cannot succeed in eradicating bovine TB.
"We urge David Cameron to take positive action to accelerate progress towards vaccination of wildlife and, most importantly, vaccination of the source of bovine TB in this country, cattle, along with full review of the skin test method of removing supposed reactive animals from herds, and an overhaul of biosecurity and movement control measures."
The Government has repeatedly said vaccination of badgers – which spread TB – is impractical, and would do nothing to stop the increase of the disease, though a cull would. A cattle vaccine is at least a decade away, ministers add.
This week, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs introduced new measures to stop the spread of bovine TB, including more targeted support for badger vaccination and new rules on testing in areas at the frontier of the disease, known as the "edge" area.
The aim is to protect areas of the country that are free of the disease.