-Farmers says badgers are one of the greatest threats to beef and dairy farmers
-Government says no usable TB vaccine on the horizon
By Daily Mail Reporter
The Government today gave the go-ahead for pilot badger-culling schemes in England in an effort to combat bovine TB.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman acknowledged there was 'great strength of feeling' about a cull but insisted: 'I believe this is the right way forward.'
The RSPCA said it was a 'black day for badgers' and believed that at least 70 per cent of the badger population in certain areas of the country would be killed - or an estimated 30,000 badgers.
Ahead of the announcement, the RSPCS said it believed that at least 70 per cent of the badger population in large areas of the country would be killed
There are approximately 190,000 badgers in England.
The move was also condemned by Labour, with shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh claiming it was prompted by 'short-term political calculation' and was not backed by scientific evidence.
Farmers have called for action for years, but mass slaughter of the animals has polarised opinion, with wildlife campaigners bitterly opposed.
Farmers say badgers are one of the greatest threats currently facing beef and dairy farmers and believe that a cull would save them money in the long run.
David Bowles, director of communications for the RSPCA, said: 'Today is a black day for badgers - a day we have been dreading.
'At a time when the Welsh government has stepped back from a cull, the government in England is slowly shredding its own animal welfare credentials.'
The charity said vaccination of badgers, increased levels of testing, improved biosecurity and stricter controls on the movement of cattle were betters ways of ridding cattle of the disease.
Ahead of the announcement, it said it believed that at least 70 per cent of the badger population in certain areas of the country would be killed, despite it saying scientific studies showing that a cull would be of little help in reducing the disease in the long term, and could actually make things worse in some areas.
Mrs Spelman said there would be further consultation on the proposed guidance issued to Natural England, who will issue culling licences, and in the first year there would be two pilot schemes.
She said: 'I wish there was some other practical way of dealing with this, but we can't escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in the areas worst affected by bovine TB.
'With the problem of TB spreading and no usable vaccine on the horizon, I'm strongly minded to allow controlled culling, carried out by groups of farmers and landowners as part of a science-led carefully managed policy of badger control.'
Farmers want to see a policy to control badgers to tackle a problem they say is one of the greatest threats currently facing beef and dairy farmers
She added: 'Initially in the first year, the culling method would be piloted in two areas, to confirm the effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting.
'An independent panel of scientific experts will be asked to evaluate the pilots.'
She said if culling was ultimately authorised 'we will look to the farmers involved to show that they take their responsibility very seriously and that they are committed to delivering culling effectively and humanely'.
Efforts to control the disease have been hampered by the transmission of TB bacteria between wild badgers and cattle.
Colin Booty, senior scientist for the RSPCA, said: 'The RSPCA is sympathetic to farmers struggling to cope with the effects of this crippling disease and thinks that the problem of bovine TB in cattle needs a sustainable and effective solution.
'But this is not such a solution. We believe that the government have taken the wrong fork in the road with this risky policy.
'This cull will contribute little or nothing to the long-term goal of eradicating TB nationally. Instead it will wipe out huge numbers of this much-loved species, including many animals which are healthy.
Last week a key government adviser said a cull would be a mistake.
Lord Krebs, who conducted a major review into badgers and bovine TB in the 1990s and recommended a trial cull which took place over the following 10 years, said he did not think it was 'an effective policy'.
It has appeared likely over recent weeks the Environment Department would allow a cull, after experts including its chief scientist and chief vet concluded that co-ordinated and sustained culling of badgers, which can spread the disease to livestock, was likely to reduce TB rates in cattle.
A two-page document produced following a meeting in April of the group of experts, set out the latest data from the randomised badger culling trials (RBCT), showing around a 16 per cent reduction in new infections in herds following a cull.
But last week Lord Krebs, one of the scientific experts involved in the meeting, said: 'If you look at the evidence from the RBCT you will see that if you cull intensively for at least four years, you will have a net benefit of reducing TB in cattle of 12 per cent to 16 per cent.
'So you leave 85 per cent of the problem still there, having gone to a huge amount of trouble to cull a huge number of badgers.
'It doesn't seem to be an effective way of controlling the disease.'