POLL: Should the UK halt its failed badger cull policy?

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The imminent expansion of England’s controversial “flies in the face of scientific evidence”, according to the nation’s foremost experts, who have called on new prime minister, Theresa May, to halt the “failed” policy.

The scientists say the cull, intended to curb tuberculosis in cattle, is a “risky, costly, and inhumane” distraction and may actually increase TB infections.

TB is a serious problem for farmers, with 36,000 infected cattle slaughtered in Britain in 2015 at a cost to the taxpayer of about £100m. But this is a “monstrous” waste of money, according to one of the scientists, who says the problem could be effectively tackled by cracking down on the spread of TB between cattle.

Campaigners call for an end to the badger cull, London on 12 July 2016 Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock

Badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset are due to begin their fourth year in the coming weeks, with another in Dorset entering its second year. But up to 29 applications for new culls across nine counties, including Cheshire, Cornwall and Herefordshire are now being evaluated by officials. The environment secretary, Liz Truss, backed a rollout in February, saying: “I want to see culling expanded across a wider number of areas this year.”

The letter to May is from professors John Bourne, Rosie Woodroffe and Ranald Munro. Bourne and Woodroffe ran a £50m trial in 2007 that concluded that badger culling could “make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”. Munro led a government-appointed group that scrutinised the first year of the Gloucestershire and Somerset culls and concluded that they were both ineffective and inhumane.

They tell May: “We urge you to review the considerable evidence that culling badgers is a risky, costly, and inhumane tool in the fight against bovine TB. We submit to you that expanding this unpromising programme would fly in the face of scientific evidence. We publicly call on you at this time to halt – not expand – the failed badger cull.”

They say the loosening of rules designed to make the culls effective – such as killing the badgers in a short period of time to prevent wider spread of TB – has left them “far below the minimum standards” required.

“The license conditions have not delivered effective culls yet and the changes made since are only going to make them less effective,” said Woodroffe. “So culling could very easily make a serious problem for farmers worse.”

The scientist who commissioned the £50m trial, Lord John Krebs, also heavily criticised the cull. “Badger culling is a sideshow,” he said. “The only effective way to stop TB is stopping the spread from cattle to cattle by more testing and a much better test.”

Krebs said: “The government has not produced any figures to show the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have worked, so how can they justify rolling out the cull to more areas?”

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries. The government is implementing an adaptive strategy involving various different interventions to tackle the spread of TB, eg cattle measures, biosecurity and badger control in areas where the disease is rife.”

The badger culls have proven expensive, costing farmers over £6,000 for each of the many thousands of animals shot. “Defra’s own calculations at the start were that it was going to cost more than it saved, and [since then] it has been more costly and probably less effective,” said Woodroffe.

Bourne said the taxpayers’ money spent on compensating farmers for slaughtered TB cattle was also a waste. “It is monstrous that a disease that is stimulated, maintained and geographically spread by cattle movement, which is in the control of government and farmers, costs the taxpayer so much. It is quite monstrous, because the wherewithal is there, the science is there and it [just] needs sensible application.”

He said there was “not a hope in hell” of the current government strategy eradicating TB in 25 years.

In 2015, the British Veterinary Association withdrew its support for the shooting of free running badgers, as “it has not been demonstrated conclusively that controlled shooting can be carried out effectively and humanely”.

Munro said: “You can see quite easily that the roll out into many more areas will immediately increase the risk of a considerable number of badgers being injured and suffering for [a cull] that doesn’t actually work.”

This article was first published by The Guardian on 13 Jul 2016.

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Pam Purser

Badger culling is scientifically and morally wrong. STOP IT NOW

Colin K Davies

Vast majority of badgers shot will have been Tb-free. It's as if their lives do not matter by those who promote culling . I remain appalled by such indiscriminate killing of our precious wildlife.

Leigh Lofgren

another dumb question to something that should never have been done in the first place. What on earth is wrong with everyone who wants this and allowed it to take place. STOP. THe UK is supposed to be a modern, top country and this is what you do? Such a total waste of money that should have been better spent on protecting the wildlife and all else. Great comment ALan Petrie.

Lisa Huskisson

Badger Culling is a criminal waste of lives. Many experts have proved scientifically that badgers DO NOT spread Bovine TB. But The Conservative part being complete twunts won't listen ! If the 50 million pounds, wasted on the mass murder of badgers, had been spent on the innoculation of cattle.This would have been such a better use of tax payers money.

Lesley Booth

Surely vaccination of cattle would be a more cost effective way and kinder to the poor badgers. Fgs government wake up. Culling does not work.

Clive Burfoot

So cruel and so unnecassary!!! these beautiful creatures this must be stopped surely the government can re think this!!

Michele Jankelow

Absolutely, end this monstrous cull!

Alan Petrie

Who are the people voting NO. Please explain yourselves. The badger culls are unscientific, ineffective, inhumane, costly and are not reducing BTB. Even the Irish government have given up culling as it is unsustainable. The £20 million wasted so far would have been better spent on cattle measures as in Wales where BTB has reduced dramatically without a cull.