Badger cull: Government to delay scheme until next year

 

Owen Paterson: Need to ensure "the cull will conform to the scientific criteria and the evidence base"

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The government has announced it will delay a planned cull of badgers in England until next summer, after widespread protests against the scheme.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said this was necessary to "get it right" and the "optimal time" for this year had passed.

Under coalition plans, several thousand badgers could be shot, in an effort to reduce levels of bovine tuberculosis.

The anti-cull campaigner and Queen guitarist Brian May welcomed the delay.

Ministers have given approval for a cull in two areas, Gloucestershire and west Somerset, as part of efforts to control bovine TB.

Under the plans, badgers will be shot in the open without first being trapped in cages, which is current practice.

Opponents, including the RSPCA, say that is inhumane, with an e-petition to the government attracting more than 160,000 signatures.

'Convinced'

In a statement to MPs, Mr Paterson said the cull "should have begun" earlier this summer but had been delayed until after the Olympics and Paralympics, with recent bad weather also hampering preparations.

But he said that the alternative - a vaccine - was only 50% to 60% effective, adding: "I'm entirely convinced that the badger cull is the right thing to do."

The National Farmers' Union is leading the preparations for the scheme, but Mr Paterson said it had written to him asking for a delay, as this was not the best time of year to go ahead.

He said badger numbers in Gloucestershire and Somerset were higher than had been previously thought, adding: "It's crucial that we get this right."

The government's plan is based on the results of a nine-year trial which showed the spread of the disease could be slowed slightly if more than 70% of badgers in an area could be eradicated. But if it was less than 70%, the spread of TB could increase, it found.

map showing distribution of badgers and bovine TB in the UK

Mr Paterson said: "It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the population."

He added: "By starting the pilots next summer, we can build on the work that's already been done and ensure that the cull will conform to the scientific criteria and the evidence base."

'No answer'

For Labour Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, called the government's handling of the badger cull "incompetent and shambolic".

"Once again, ministers present the House with a disaster entirely of their own making. Once again, it's farmers and taxpayers who are left counting the cost," she said.

"Bovine TB is a terrible disease for farmers, their families and their communities. But this cull was never going to be a silver bullet."

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: "We welcome this postponement, but this must not be a temporary reprieve, but must mark an end to all cull plans.

"Science, the public and MPs from all parties had said very clearly that a cull is no answer to bovine TB."

Brian May, who has campaigned against the cull, called the government announcement "at least a temporary reprieve".

He added: "But let's be very clear: this is a scientifically flawed, ethically reprehensible, economically unjustifiable and reckless policy that needs to be abandoned, once and for all."

But Peter Jones, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: "The science has not changed. Scientists agree that culling badgers does reduce the levels of infection in cattle herds, and we know that no country has dealt with bovine TB without tackling the disease in wildlife."

Line graph showing bovine TB incidence in UK from 1996 to 2011

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says the cull is necessary to protect cattle from bovine TB.

Last year, 26,000 cattle in England had to be slaughtered after contracting the disease.

The Welsh government has opted for a system of vaccination while Scotland is officially TB-free.

 

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  • rate this
    -35

    Comment number 312.

    There are too many badgers and they are wiping out the hedgehog population. Their numbers have increased greatly since they were made a protected species. This was a mistake, their protection should be removed and their numbers drastically reduced. As they have no natural predators they should be shot in a controlled manner. Or don't you care about hedgehogs? Or cattle? They are animals too.

  • rate this
    -38

    Comment number 166.

    Dairy farmers only care about making money from animals. Why don't they move to plant based products instead? Then they wouldn't have to worry about bovine TB. They can still make a living - just from healthier, kinder foods, which is better all round for humans, animals and the earth. And if people went vegan, you also wouldn't need to worry about bovine TB. Choose the healthier option.

  • rate this
    +32

    Comment number 164.

    Good news let's hope it turns into a permanent decision. How can we even considering killing off our largest wild carnivores? We should be looking at how to protect them from bovine TB. TB in general thrives in poor living conditions so improve this for cows or vaccinate them.

  • rate this
    -16

    Comment number 100.

    I'm a vet surgeon specialised in farm animals. The current TB costs the Government £150million pa, not including the cost to farmers. The role badgers play in the spread of TB has been scientifically proven beyond doubt, as has the need for a cull. Badgers are slowly and painfully dying of TB. If you like badgers let us eradicate the disease in cattle and badgers alike.

  • rate this
    +39

    Comment number 93.

    If this cull ever goes ahead, those responsible for allowing, organising and carrying it out had better make sure TB is erradicated or they won't be very popular. What happens if and when it returns? More culling until the badger is extinct? This is obviously a major problem for farmers and the source of the TB is not in doubt, but the solution is questionable. Random shooting won't stop it.

 

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