The Government has brushed aside criticism it is pressing ahead with an “ill-conceived” badger cull as ministers claimed that “doing nothing” will fail to stop the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.
The defiance came as Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss confirmed culling has started for a second year in the South West, where bovine TB is rife.
The programme continues despite heavy criticism of the effectiveness and humaneness of last year’s culls. Over the next six weeks, trained marksmen will have to kill a minimum of 316 badgers in Somerset and 615 badgers in Gloucestershire, with a maximum permitted of 785 in Somerset and 1,091 in Gloucestershire.
Ministers insisted more marksmen had been trained and the cull would be more humane this year. The major political battle-line has been drawn over whether the evidence justifies the action, which is part of a “comprehensive strategy” also including vaccinating healthy badgers away from hotspots and more restrictions on cattle movements.
Critics, including animal welfare groups, Labour and musician Brian May, point to the chief scientific advisor to the Natural England quango describing the culls as an “epic failure”.
But the Government, which has the backing of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), underlined it has the support of the British Veterinary Association and its own chief vet.
Ms Truss said its strategy is “vital for the future of our beef and dairy industries, and our nation’s food security”. TB in livestock saw more than 26,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year and multimillion-pound losses. “Doing nothing is not an option and that is why we are taking a responsible approach to dealing with bovine TB,” she said.
Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU, said: “If we’re ever going to get on top of bovine TB in areas where the disease is endemic, there is no other choice.”
Opponents, who say vaccination should be pursued, are also concerned that monitoring of the “pilot” culls by a panel of independent experts has not been resumed this year. But Ms Truss, in a statement to Parliament, insisted the pilots will be “independently audited.”
Mark Jones, a vet and executive director for Humane Society International UK, said: “Independent scientific advice that killing badgers is a waste of time has been eschewed, independent oversight of the culls abandoned, kill targets have been set without an accurate idea of actual badger numbers, and farmers continue to be misled into thinking that killing these animals will help solve bovine TB when all the evidence points to the contrary.”
Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle said: “Instead of abandoning these appalling culls, the Government have chosen to press ahead without any further independent expert monitoring.”
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “This cull was a farce from the start, and even more so now that the killing of these iconic and protected mammals started again last night without any scientific scrutiny from experts.”
Article taken from: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Ministers-reject-claims-Somerset-Gloucestershire/story-22898431-detail/story.html#ygXfLDJQ751iJwSH.99
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