The number of areas where badgers will be culled to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis is to more than triple under licences issued by the government on Tuesday.
Licensed shooters could begin killing badgers within days in Herefordshire, Cornwall and Devon, which have been added to the culling already taking place in recent years in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.
Ministers say the culling is essential to stop the spread of bovine TB to cattle, which cost the taxpayer £100m in 2015 to compensate farmers for slaughtered cattle. But experts have said the culls “fly in the face of scientific evidence” and could even make the problem worse.
George Eustice, the farming minister, said the cull’s expansion was vital to tackle the “reservoir” of the disease in badgers. “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is delivering results, with more than half the country on track to be free of the disease by the end of this parliament.”
In total, 10 areas have now been licensed for culling, up from three areas previously. Ministers also announced the provision of more information and advice on cattle movements and biosecurity measures and a consultation on the use of more sensitive tests.
The National Farmers Union welcomed the move. Meurig Raymond, the NFU president, said: “Farmers facing a daily battle against bTB in those areas that have been granted licences for badger control operations this year will welcome the news that finally action is being taken to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife in these areas.
“Today’s announcement means that badger control will now be taking place in 10% of the area where cattle are at the highest risk of contracting bTB.”
But scientists, Labour and animal welfare groups condemned the expansion and said it would not stop the disease. Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Institute of Biology in London, said: “This is a huge disappointment for evidence-based policy making. The scale of the rollout is huge: farmers will be required to kill almost 10,000 badgers at a minimum before the end of November. And yet the government has released no evidence that farmer-led culling is helping to control cattle TB.”
Rachel Maskell, shadow environment secretary, said: “The decision to extend the badger cull flies in the face of the government’s own evidence that shows the killing of thousands of badgers has not reduced the number of cattle contracting bovine TB. The government promised when they embarked on the cull that it would be an evidence based approach, yet they are failing to take any notice of the facts.”
Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, said: “Defra statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise in and around the cull zones. We could kill ever badger in Britain but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor bio security controls.
“The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern livestock industry. The badger cull has failed on scientific, humaneness and cost grounds. For Andrea Leadsom to extend the badger cull to seven new areas defies belief and is a national disgrace,” he said.
Chris Pitt, deputy director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “It is ludicrous that given all the evidence collated over the last four years, the government plan to roll out their misguided badger cull even further. Killing badgers is not only disastrous for badgers, but it’s also calamitous for cattle and a dead end for farmers, because all the unbiased scientific opinion suggests that we’ll never get rid of bovine TB this way.”
Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, said: “It is both shocking and sad that the government is expanding this cruel ‘pilot’ policy to three new counties.”
The cost to taxpayers for the cull, described as “industry-led” by the government, was £17.6m for the three years from 2013 to 2015, including £6.7m on policing and £6.6m on independent monitoring of effectiveness and humaneness. The lmonitoring, which found the first year of culls were not effective or humane, has been discontinued. The expenditure is equivalent to many thousands of pounds for each badger killed.
The government funding needed for each new culling area is estimated at £1.2m a year, meaning the seven news areas will cost a total of £33.6m in total over the planned four years of culling.
The government’s original value-for-money assessment of the badger culls showed they would cost more than they saved in TB reduction. But a new assessment from the government finds that the benefit of future culls will exceed the costs, due to “to more cost-effective monitoring and policing”.
The government expects policing costs to “disappear” over time, “following further successful badger control operations without security incident”, but protesters say they intend to take direct action to drive up policing costs.
Recent research showed that bovine TB is not passed through direct contact between badgers and cattle, but through contaminated pasture and dung.
Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/30/badger-cull-areas-more-than-triple-under-new-government-licences
RSPCA are urging people to write to their MP and ask for an end to badger suffering. MPs are encouraged to attend the Westminster debate on 7th September and seek alternatives to this unnecessary and ineffective cull.