A controversial cull of badgers to prevent the spread of bovine TB has resumed, despite evidence suggesting that the practice is inhumane and ineffective.
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The government has confirmed that the second year of the cull began in pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire on Monday night.
The government and large swathes of the farming community argue the culling of badgers is necessary to prevent the spread of TB, particularly among cattle herds. Last year, more than 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered because of the disease.
“At present we have the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe,” said environment secretary Elizabeth Truss.
“Doing nothing is not an option and that is why we are taking a responsible approach to dealing with bovine TB.”
However, last year the cull was deemed a failure after neither pilot managed to kill enough badgers to have the desired effect. A damming review also revealed that the cull had been inhumane, with many badgers taking longer than five minutes to die.
This time, licensed marksmen have been tasked with killing just under 1,000 badgers in six weeks, but campaigners have urged the government to call off the slaughter.
“I am appalled and saddened that this cruel and pointless waste of badgers’ lives is taking place once more in England,” said Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of Humane Society International UK.
“Neither DEFRA nor Natural England appear to have learned anything from last year’s events: independent scientific advice that killing badgers is a waste of time has been eschewed, independent oversight of the culls abandoned, kill targets have been set without an accurate idea of actual badger numbers, and farmers continue to be misled into thinking that killing these animals will help solve bovine TB when all the evidence points to the contrary.”
Critics have welcomed the government’s decision to run a pilot vaccination scheme in the areas around Somerset and Gloucestershire, but have called for the measure to be used instead of, rather than alongside, the cull.
Jones added, “We’re pleased that DEFRA has finally admitted that badger vaccination is a useful tool, but it will be too little too late unless ministers pull out all the stops to promote it to the very farms they and the National Farmers Union have spent years trying to convince that badger vaccination is a waste of time.”
Photo: Peter Trimming via Flickr