Badger cull is called “costly distraction from true solutions” to bovine TB

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

LONDON––Four weeks into a six-week government cull of up to 5,000 badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset counties,  Guardian environment correspondent Damian Carrington on October 1,  2013 recommended that the apparent fiasco should be stopped.   The cull was billed by British environment secretary Owen Paterson as a pilot study of the efficacy of culling badgers to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis.  But,  though popular among farmers,  the notion that culling could be effective has been rejected by almost every scientist who has studied the alleged role of badgers as a reservoir for bovine TB,   including Lord John Krebs,  the biologist who led nine years of experimental culling,  1997-2006. Delayed for a year by lawsuits and an October 2012 non-binding House of Commons vote of opposition that passed 147-28,  the cull is supported chiefly by the National Farmers Union,  which is politically aligned with the governing Conservative Party.  Wrote Carrington,  “Most scientific experts in this area say the cull is a costly distraction from the true solutions of vaccination and tighter control of cattle movements and farm biosecurity.  High policing costs already mean that the cull is more expensive than a badger vaccination program,  according to one expert analysis.  Finally, the pilot culls are failing even on their own terms,  as far too few badgers are being shot,”  to achieve the 70% reduction in the badger population deemed necessary to eliminate badgers from a role in bovine TB transmission. Carrington also noted threats to civil liberties associated with police intelligence operations meant to keep hunt saboteurs from disrupting the culling. “The culls have sparked the biggest animal rights protests since fox hunting with dogs was outlawed,  with more than 300,000 people signing a government e-petition against the cull,”  Carrington noted earlier.  “But ministers have insisted the cull is a necessary part of bovine TB control measures which cost taxpayers £100 million a year for TB testing and farmer compensation.” About 37,000 British cattle per year are culled due to bovine TB outbreaks,  or die due to the effects of the disease itself. “Ministers have insisted that trapping and innoculating badgers is too expensive to pursue,”  Carrington noted. But “Vaccination does not prompt protest,  so it is cheaper to implement than culling,”  said London Zoo scientist Rosie Woodroffe,  a member of Lord Krebs’ team.  “There is good reason to expect badger vaccination to reduce transmission to cattle,”  Woodroffe added. Carrington reported that the Department for Environment,  Food & Rural Affairs  was “on the verge of being forced to take over the controversial badger culls from farmers because the low number of animals shot so far risks the policy seriously failing. “  As of September 13,  2013,  Carrington said,  the cull had reached 100 badgers killed,  but to reach the six-week cull target,  farmers would have to shoot 120 badgers each night. Reminded Carrington,  “The Guardian previously revealed that,  according to experts,  the population estimates for badgers in the cull zones are so uncertain that every badger in the area could be killed and the minimum quota would not be met.”

Protest

Said the Royal SPCA,  “We are very much calling for greater transparency from DEFRA, especially in terms of culling methods and the accurate assessment of humaneness.  We are also concerned that plans to extend the scope and scale of the cull appear to have been made without proper political scrutiny.” The British Charity Commission on August 30,  2013 rejected a complaint brought by the National Farmers Union against RSPCA opposition to the cull and to live exports of animals for slaughter. Reported the Charity Commission,  “We are satisfied that it is reasonable for the RSPCA to decide that campaigning against the badger cull and live animal exports is justified in furtherance of their objects.  We have emphasized the importance of continued scrutiny by the trustees, because the RSPCA undertakes campaigns in controversial areas and needs to consider the consequences and reputational risks that may arise from this.” National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall appeared to consider the complaint successful because,  he said,  “The RSPCA has now clarified its position on the naming of farmers involved with the badger cull and that it condemns personal intimidation. The RSPCA has also now confirmed that it will not call for a boycott of milk.” The World Society for the Protection of Animals remained silent about the badger cull,  as it has since 2010,  when director general Mike Baker aligned WSPA with traditional British dairy farmers,  “to keep our dairy cows in fields,  not in factories,”  as WSPA appeals have put it. Despite intensive security precautions,  hunt saboteurs disrupted the night culling on several occasions at multiple test sites.  The first protester to be arrested was Rebecca Reid,  52,  of Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania. “For months Reid had been closely following plans for the government-sanctioned shootings,”  wrote  Timothy McNulty of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  “The longtime animal-rights advocate, who moved to Pittsburgh from Liverpool 15 years ago,  was moved by stories of people walking public footpaths through the countryside at all hours of the night disrupting the culls,  and protecting badger dens from privately employed hunters.  Prodded by her children,  she joined the efforts in Gloucestershire. Local police arrested Reid and two others and charged them with aggravated trespassing. Detectives from the country’s Criminal Investigation Department later bumped the charges up to conspiracy to attempt aggravated trespass. “Reid said police treated her kindly during her first-ever night in jail,”  McNulty continued,  “even going out to buy vegan food for her and the other suspects.  When police discovered they did not plan their confrontation with the hunters,  the charges were dropped.”

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