As the Government announces the first licences for culling badgers I thought it was worth revisiting the reasons why myself, the Green Party and many other vets are against this awful plan.
There are a multitude of reasons why this the cull is wrong; the scientific evidence, significant concerns over animal welfare, public safety and ethical concerns .
The scientific evidence is clear, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), a large scale trial of culling, concluded that “badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB”. They also concluded that other approaches to culling were at best only going to give slightly better results and at worst would have a detrimental effect.
While I completely understand the distress this issue causes to farmers and that TB is a serious disease of cattle, but the feeling of frustration and wanting to ‘do something’ must not mean we disregard the facts and ethical considerations.
The RBCT report reported that substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures. These measures must be the focus of funding and research, not another culling ‘trial’. So it is very unfortunate that the government has chosen to reduce the funding of badger vaccination trials.
In order for a cull to have any hope of ‘success’ a massive area, 150mk2, needs to be covered and it must be sustained for at least four years and at least 70% of the land area must be accessible. This is a massive undertaking, there are so many ways in which this cull could go wrong, due to the ‘pertubation effect’, it could result in the incidence of TB actually increasing. When you bear in mind that the measure of success is a reduction in TB of around 15%, ie leaving 85% of the disease untouched, this all seems completely nonsensical.
While the government has pledged that they will take measures to ensure the cull is are carried out humanely, and with high regard to animal welfare, the anatomy of the badger means that the method chosen, free shooting, is simply not appropriate, carrying a very high risk of leaving badgers wounded and in pain. In addition there is a risk to people of injury and even death from the use of firearms at night to carry out the cull.
Sadly the badger has become the scapegoat for this disease. The Government and Defra need to wake up and show some leadership and deal with the other 85% of disease transmission. Then we might start to make some progress against this disease and the distress it causes to farmers and their herds.