To Cull or Not to Cull?

UK - An all-party committee of MP's said that farmers or contractors should only be granted licences to trap and shoot the animals where the government is satisfied this can be done competently, co-ordinated properly, and carried out over as large an area as possible. But the RSPCA has reacted with horror and disbelief to the news.
calendar icon 27 February 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

"Any attempt at badger-culling flies in the face of sound scientific judgement," says John Rolls, the RSPCA's director of animal welfare promotion.

"The evidence shows a policy of badger culling is unsustainable, uneconomic and, as this committee recognises, could even worsen the spread of bovine TB.

"There is overwhelming public opposition to a mass eradication of badgers by farmers. Surely even to contemplate such a move is political madness?"

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) public consultation on badger-culling prompted a record 47,472 responses, 95% of which opposed a cull.

The evidence

The most authoritative scientific research ever undertaken on the subject recommended against a cull.

The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine TB (bTB) was tasked by the UK government with undertaking specific research on the effects of badger-culling on TB in cattle. The painstaking work took nearly ten years, cost the lives of over 11,000 badgers and cost taxpayers £34 million.

The ISG concluded that, "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain", and added, "Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone."

Alternative methods must be sought

The MPs' recommendation today that the government should focus on more stringent cattle-based controls is welcome, but is totally undermined by a suggestion that a cull undertaken by farmers might be acceptable in some areas under strict - but undefined - guidelines.

"It is crucial to focus efforts on disease control methods which will work," John Rolls continued. "Talk of a possible cull - even in very limited circumstances - is a cruel distraction from effective efforts to combat the disease.

"Cattle-based measures - such as testing and increased biosecurity - should and must underpin the fight against the spread of this disease, not a half-baked proposal which offers no welfare benefit to either farm animal or wildlife."

He concluded: "We are keen to work with farmers and governments to find positive solutions to these challenges."

It is not possible to cull only diseased badgers because there is no reliable test to identify them. This means that most of the badgers killed in any cull would be disease-free because the available evidence shows that the vast majority of badgers are free from TB.

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