Vaccination remains the long-term goal to ending bovine TB
Q. Why is the cull of badgers happening?
A. Ministers say culling of badgers is necessary as part of efforts to tackle spiralling rates of tuberculosis in cattle. Some 28,000 cattle were slaughtered last year, and officials warn costs to the taxpayer of dealing with the disease could reach £1 billion over the next 10 years.
Q. What is the evidence to support a cull?
A. It is widely accepted that badgers spread TB to cattle, and it is estimated that around half of herd infections come from badgers. The Government also points to experience from other countries, including Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, which all successfully tackled TB in livestock using culling of wildlife which spread the disease.
Q. Why is it so controversial?
A. Experts, including some involved in a previous long-term trial, have raised a number of concerns about the policy, including that the gains will not be very large and costs could outweigh the benefits. Animal welfare and wildlife groups claim killing badgers will be inhumane and the policy is not backed up by the science. Farmers say the disease is devastating their businesses and lives and that everything possible must be done to tackle it.
Q. What will the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire involve?
A. Groups of farmers have been given licences to conduct culls in the two areas under conditions which include having trained marksmen to shoot free-running badgers and ensuring they kill 70% of badgers in their areas. About 5,000 badgers will be killed across the two areas, either by shooting of free-running badgers, cage-trapping and shooting the animals or a combination of the two.
Q. How much will the cull cost?
A. The costs of carrying out the culling are being borne by the farmers. Cage trapping and shooting would cost £2,500 per square kilometre per year, and shooting free-running badgers would cost £300 per square kilometre per year. The Environment Department estimates culling will cost an average of £1,000 per square kilometre per year, which means the Somerset cull would come to £1 million over the four-year period. Monitoring, licensing and policing costs will be met by the taxpayer and come to £3.2 million for each pilot area.
Q. What else is being done to tackle the problem?
A. Efforts have been made to tighten the movement and testing regimes for farms in a bid to prevent cattle-to-cattle transmission, and farmers are encouraged to implement “biosecurity” measures such as keeping badgers away from barns or feed.
Q. So why isn’t the focus on vaccination?
A. The Government insists it is pushing forward with vaccination, but it is a long-term strategy. A vaccination for badgers is available but has to be injected, and a oral vaccine which can be put in bait is still some way off, according to officials.
WMN online poll highlights
the great divide
The deep divide in public opinion over the badger cull was exposed in the exclusive online poll run by the Western Morning News. The question “Do you support a cull against badgers to eradicate spread of bovine TB?” on www.westernmorning news.co.uk resulted in more than 13,000 votes. It ended with almost two-thirds saying they were opposed to the cull. In all 7,922 people voted against the cull, with 5,223 in favour. The poll was launched after official figures showed 12,061 cattle were slaughtered due to bovine TB in the first four months of this year. The National Farmers’ Union said it was a “classic example” of why policy was not determined by polls.
“If you ask people who wants to cull badgers and no one does,” NFU spokesman Ian Johnson said when the results were revealed. “The problem is they have to cull badgers.” He added: “The vast majority probably don’t have an opinion and if they were told there is no alternative they would say yes.”