Battle Over Badger Cull in UK Wages On
The proposed culling of more than 40,000 badgers in the next four years is an attempt to combat cattle tuberculosis in the country. It has raised an outcry of criticism against the government, with the Badger Trust legally challenging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in April this year.
According to Defra, culling of badgers especially in highly affected areas has the potential to effectively constrain cattle tuberculosis, which costs the country about £100 million every year. The disease also claims tens of thousands of cattle, resulting in heavy losses and difficulties for many rural farmers.
Scientists and researchers contend, however, that culling badgers is far from being the best and cost-effective way of combating the disease. More cattle are infected from contact with already infected herds than from badgers. Cattle can also catch the disease from other wildlife like deer, as well as from other farmed animals. In its Q and A paper on bovine tuberculosis in cattle and badgers, Badger Trust states that research has yet to discover a clear and well understood transmission route of the disease between cattle and badgers.
Furthermore, the paper states that not all badgers are infected by the disease and rarely die from it. Acquired immunity to the disease also plays a part in protecting badger populations from contracting the disease on a massive scale, which raises the question on whether killing disease-free badgers is legal and fair. Badger Trust cites research from Woodchester Park that showed both infected and non-infected individuals often share the same tunnels, chambers, and air space without easily spreading the disease to each other. Significantly, the paper states that it is not possible to identify only diseased badgers to kill them. The same goes for badger groups or setts. The proposed method of Defra is “free shooting”, where people can roam the landscape and shoot any badger they see. BBC states that the efficacy of the said has not been formally studied, and can potentially be a hazard to public safety.
The government’s goal is to thin out badger populations in targeted areas or “cull zones” by at least 70%. Each cull zone needs to cover at least 70% of a minimum 150 sq km of land. Defra plans to allow 10 new cull zones every year.
Badger Trust contested the proposed culling on three grounds. First, it stated that the department’s projections for lowering incidence of the disease by 12-16% over nine years hardly qualify as license to kill for prevention of the disease. Second, the free shooting method would be ineffective in all probability and would force farmers to trap badgers, raising costs up to 10 times. This would hardly be the “cost-effective” method the government is aiming for. Lastly, the guidance Defra gave to the government agency which would issue the cull licenses is unlawful. Badger Trust proposes instead a vaccination program for cattle in place of badger culls to deal with widespread problem of cattle tuberculosis. A vaccine for badgers has also been licensed and used to produce oral bait vaccines.
Last week Badger Trust’s bid failed in the High Court. Badger Trust said that it did not take the court decision lightly when it filed an appeal and proceeded to the Court of Appeals. A spokesperson said that the organization will do everything it can to protect the survival of the badger as an ‘iconic species’.
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