A group of 26 eminent scientists and vets have written to the Prime Minister, urging his government to abandon badger culling and instead focus on cattle-based measures to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle.
bTB is a serious problem for the cattle industry across large parts of the UK. In 2013, more than 26,000 infected cattle were slaughtered in England alone under a compulsory test-and-slaughter programme introduced in 1950, and government attempts to control the disease are estimated to cost the taxpayer in the region of £50 million each year. However, some policy options have proved extremely controversial, and different measures adopted in England and Wales have, to date, resulted in very different outcomes.
In England, DEFRA has focussed on badger culling as a major part of its strategy for controlling the spread of bTB in cattle. To date, two years of 'pilot culls' that have taken place in Gloucestershire and Somerset resulting in the deaths of thousands of badgers. While badgers can undisputedly catch and spread bTB, the extent to which they are a source of infection in cattle is hotly disputed. The National Farmers Union and some farmers would like to see badger culling extended across much of the west of England, but most independent scientists and experts disagree, warning that culling badgers could actually make things worse for cattle and farmers, and the impacts on the welfare of badgers and the stability of the wider ecosystem have caused serious concerns among wildlife and civil society groups. Meanwhile, bTB costs continue to spiral, and there has been limited progress in bringing the infection under control
While all this has been going on in England, across the border in Wales they have adopted a different approach. The Welsh have rejected badger culling on the basis of a lack of scientific evidence for its efficacy, and a policy of stricter cattle testing, trade and movement restrictions has been in place for the past few years. A programme of mass vaccination of badgers, targeting the most heavily infected areas in and around Pembrokeshire, is now coming into its third year.
Since Wales introduced its policy in 2009, the numbers of cattle slaughtered in the principality because of bTB has reduced by almost 50%, and the number of new cases of disease among herds has come down by more than a third.
The 26 scientists and vets are urging the Government in Westminster to look across the border to Wales, so that England can mimic the successes being achieved in Wales, and badgers no longer have to suffer from an ineffective, cruel and unnecessary government-sponsored slaughter.
The joint letter can be found at: