Around 5,000 badgers are set to be shot in Somerset and Gloucestershire in an effort to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB). However, opponents claim the cull is inhumane and will not spell an end to the disease.
Backers of the cull, which was approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) last year, say that the massacre is essential to stop badgers infecting cattle. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall said, “While sad, these culls are absolutely necessary.”
Environment secretary Owen Paterson also defended the cull, saying, “I want to end up with healthy cattle living alongside healthy wildlife.”
However, the plans have been met with strong opposition, both from animal rights activists, who claim that the cull is cruel and unnecessary, and from the scientific community, which says that the whole operation is unscientific and ineffective, and might worsen the problem rather than solve it.
Dominic Dyer, from the charity Care for the Wild, told the BBC that the killing is uncontrolled, as the badgers that are culled won’t even be tested for TB, meaning some that are perfectly healthy may die.
In a 2012 letter to the Observer, several scientists explained, “As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.
“Even if such increases do not materialise, the government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the costs for either farmers or taxpayers.”
Criticism has come not just from the public and scientists, but also from politicians. Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh wrote to the Guardian saying, “The government’s own analysis says that it will cost more than it saves, put a huge strain on police given the expected protests, and will spread bovine TB in the short term as badgers are disrupted by the shooting.
“To bring this disease under control we need stricter management of cattle movements, and to prioritise badger and cattle vaccination. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that must be stopped. This cull is not the way to do it.”