UK & World News
Badger Cull: Scientists Slam Government Plan
Scientists have condemned a plan to cull thousands of badgers in an attempt to fight bovine tuberculosis.
More than 30 professors from leading universities and zoological institutions across the UK have written a letter to the Observer saying that killing the animals could worsen the problem it aims to solve.
The letter states: "The Government's TB-control policy for England includes licensing farmers to cull badgers. As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.
"Even if such increases do not materialise, the Government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the costs for either farmers or taxpayers.
"Unfortunately, the imminent pilot culls are too small and too short term to measure the impacts of licensed culling on cattle TB before a wider roll-out of the approach.
"The necessarily stringent licensing conditions mean that many TB-affected areas of England will remain ineligible for such culling. We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control."
The group of scientists say they believe that culling badgers "is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication" and they "urge the Government to reconsider its strategy".
On Friday, David Heath, minister of state for agriculture and food, said the badger cull would be a "contribution towards bearing down on the disease".
He said: "The evidence that we have, the scientific support we have, suggests that a cull of the sort that we are proposing would be a contribution towards bearing down on the disease."
Mr Heath said 26,000 cattle were slaughtered last year and the pilot culls in the chosen areas of west Somerset and Gloucestershire would potentially see 500 to 800 badgers killed each year in each of those areas.
He said the culls would "almost certainly" take place before the end of the year and expressed his support for a possible future vaccination programme.
Farmers say the measure is required to tackle TB in cattle because badgers spread the disease to livestock, costing owners and the taxpayer millions of pounds a year.
The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (RSPCA) has said the Government should vaccinate badgers instead, while animal rights activists have threatened direct action to disrupt culling.