Badger cull to begin in 2012

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2011:

LONDON--British environment secretary Caroline Spelman is expected to finalize plans before the close of 2011 to license dairy farmers to shoot badgers to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

According to a draft strategy released to media in July 2011, the cull would begin in 2012 in two trial areas,  believed to be in Devon and Gloucestershire,  though Spel-man told media that she was undecided about where the sites would be.  After the initial trial, culling would proceed more aggressively for at least four years beginning in 2013.

“Farmers and landowners would have to convince Natural England,  the licensing authority,  that culling is necessary and that they could run it effectively,”  summarized BBC News environment correspondent Richard Black.

Natural England in an August 2011 response to Spelman expressed a “low level of confidence that the predicted benefits [from culling badgers] can be delivered consistently,”  citing “lack of evidence that a farmer-led cull can replicate what has only previously been undertaken by government– and even then on a smaller scale.”  Natural England also mentioned “the complexity of the regulatory regime required to ensure successful outcomes.”

“Natural England also argues that there is no evidence base to assess the humanness of ‘controlled shooting’ of badgers,”  wrote Farmers Guardian political editor Alistair Driver.  The National Farmers Union and National Beef Association responded by lobbying to have the licensing authority for shooting badgers transferred to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

Badgers,  protected throughout the European Union,  are known to contract and possibly carry bovine TB.  British and Irish dairy farmers have long blamed badgers for the failure of bovine TB eradication programs focused on killing infected herds.  Badger defenders counter that culling badgers merely encourages survivors to roam farther in search of mates and safe burrows,  increasing the risk that they might spread bovine TB.

“Bovine TB is a terrible disease that last year led to 25,000 cows being put down,”  responded Labour Party environment critic Mary Creagh,  “but plans to cull badgers are bad for farmers, bad for badgers,  and bad for the taxpayer.  We need to manage cattle movements and develop a vaccine to tackle TB in badgers and cattle,” Creagh addeed.  “Instead, the Tory-led government has reduced the number of vaccine trials that Labour commissioned to just one.”

“I do not think culling is an effective policy,”  zoologist John Krebs told Telegraph environment correspondent Louise Grey. Krebs advocated and later directed a 10-year trial badger cull, completed in 2006.  “If you look at the evidence from the trial,” Krebs said,  “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% to 16%,  so you leave 85% of the problem still there,  having gone to a huge amount of trouble to kill a huge amount of badgers. It just does not seem to me an effective way of controlling the disease.”

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