Badger cull could increase TB in cattle scientist warns

Cattle could be at greater risk
Cattle could be at greater risk if the cull numbers fall short. Tony C French/Getty Images

8 October 2013 by Ben Webster Environment Editor

Outbreaks of tuberculosis TB in cattle in the badger culling zones could worsen because farmers may have failed to kill enough animals, according to a scientist who helped oversee a previous ten-year culling trial. Rosie Woodroffe, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London, was responding to reports that the trial cull in Somerset, which was due to end last night, had fallen well short of the target of shooting 2,100 badgers.

Sources involved in the cull have claimed that only about 800 badgers had been killed in Somerset by the end of last week. The Somerset cull and a second cull in Gloucestershire, due to end next week, are being held to test whether shooting is humane and can result in the required number of badgers being killed.

The ten-year randomised badger culling trial, on which Dr Woodroffe worked as a member of the Independent Scientific Group, found that killing less than 70 per cent of the badger population in a cull zone could increase TB infections in cattle because surviving badgers roamed more widely and spread the disease. Dr Woodroffe said: “If this 800 figure is correct then there could be more TB in cattle than would have occurred had nothing been done.”

The farmers backing the cull could apply for an extension to their six-week licence to continue shooting badgers. But Dr Woodroofe said the longer the cull went on, the higher the risk of disturbed badgers spreading TB.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs declined to say how many badgers had been killed. He said: “We are not giving any operational updates. All the data will need to be looked at by the independent panel before the report is published.” The report is expected in the next few weeks. It will help ministers to decide whether to authorise culling in up to ten more areas next year.

Natural England refused to say last night whether or not it had received an application for the Somerset badger cull to be extended.