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5,000 badgers to be killed as cull begins

Farmers say the cull will help curb tuberculosis in cattle, but animal rights groups say that the cull will not help eradicate TB in UK.

File photo of a badger
File photo of a badger
Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

A BADGER CULL beginning in England today will see 5,000 badgers shot in an attempt to curb the spread of tuberculosis to cattle.

The President of the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Peter Kendall, wrote to NFU members today to tell them that the first pilot badger control operations have begun.

He described this as “an important step not just for cattle farmers but for the whole farming industry”.

He said that farmers “cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every year because of TB while knowing the disease exists in wildlife uncontrolled”.

Kendall acknowledged that badger control “remains a controversial subject” and that “we understand that some people will never agree with controlling badgers in this way”. But he said he believes that more people than ever recognise the need to address the disease in badgers.

The cull will see up to 5,000 badgers killed in a bid to combat tuberculosis in cattle.

Animal welfare

image
Brian May joined protesters dressed as badgers as they marched through central London to call for an end to plans for a badger cull. Pic: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

But animal welfare groups are against the cull. An initiative called Team Badger was set up calling on people to sign an e-petition asking for the cull to be stopped.

Team Badger is a coalition of the world’s largest animal and wildlife welfare groups, including the RSPCA, Care for the Wild, PETA, and Animal Aid. They want a “sustainable and realistic way to reduce the spread of bovine TB in cattle” and say that this cull” will contribute little or nothing to the long-term goal of eradicating TB nationally”.

The badgers will not be trapped, and instead the cull will take place as a ‘free-shoot’. Team Badger say:

The humaneness of using the free-shooting method is of grave concern to the group. If a cull is to be carried out, we believe it should be done in the most humane way possible.

Wales has introduced a vaccination programme for badgers instead of a cull.

Protests

Bovine TB spreads from badgers to cattle, and farmers are forced to slaughter thousands of infected animals every year.

Queen guitarist Brian May is one of the high-profile people who has spoken out against the cull. The longtime vegetarian said there was “not a shred of reason” for the culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset in southwest England.

He delivered a 235,000-signature petition against it to Prime Minister David Cameron’s office at Downing Street.

If the pilot schemes are successful, there are plans to roll out the cull in other rural areas hit badly by bovine TB.

The government argues that the cull is necessary to stop the spread of the disease, which forced English farmers to slaughter 28,000 cattle last year.

Public opinion is divided over the plan, with 29 percent supporting it and 34 percent opposing, according to a YouGov poll published in January.

Ireland

Ireland undertakes badger culling. The department of agriculture’s current wildlife policy on the eradication of bovine TB says that while it intends to replace culling with vaccination, “it will be some years before the benefits of a vaccine can be seen and therefore targeted badger removals will continue in the medium term.”

The department says the herd incidence of bovine TD has fallen from 7.5 per cent in 2000 to 4.1 per cent in 2012, which is the lowest recorded since the commencement of the eradication programme in the 1950s.

It said earlier this year:

While it is difficult to attribute trends to a single factor, we believe that most of the improvement in the TB situation, in recent years, is due the badger removal programme which was significantly enhanced in 2004 and, in particular, put on a more structured footing.

- Additional reporting AFP

Read: Ireland in breach of European convention over badger culling reports>

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