Minister claims disease is out of control, but animal welfare groups cite evidence that culling does more harm than good.
Thousands of protected badgers will be culled later this year in an attempt to limit the cattle disease bovine tuberculosis (TB) spreading further in Wales.
The decision to go ahead with a £9m pilot cull, expected to take place mainly in Pembrokeshire, was made today by Welsh rural affairs minister Elin Jonesplan was first put forward. nearly two years after the
“Bovine TB is out of control and unsustainable and last year cost the taxpayer nearly £24m in compensating farmers,” Jones said. “This is a dramatic rise since 2000 when the compensation bill was just over £1m. In 1997 around 700 cattle were culled because of bovine TB. This increased to 12,000 by 2008. We know that cattle and badgers are the main sources of the disease and that, if we want to achieve our aim of eradicating bovine TB, we have to tackle the disease in both species.”
Five culls, along with other attempts to limit the spread of the disease, will take place over a limited period for several years within a 288 sq km pilot area where the Welsh assembly government says 42% of cattle owners have had at least one case of TB in their herd since 2003. The first cull will take place after the badger breeding season ends in May.
The cull was welcomed by vets and farmers but condemned by animal welfare groups. “It’s not legal”, said Jack Reedy, a director of the Badger Trust. “There is no justification for it because it would not be effective. The Bern Convention requires that [culling can take place only] to eradicate diseases. All the scientific evidence demonstrates that culling does not eradicate disease. The cull is not supported by the the science,” he said.
The Trust challenged the Welsh assembly in the courts before Christmas but the application for a judicial review is not expected to be heard for some time.
“We’re well aware of the costs of bovine TB but this decision to eliminate badgers from a large area of the Welsh countryside is wrong. The way in which this area has been chosen will mean that any lessons learned, if there are any, will not be applicable to the rest of the country. It will also make it impossible to know which parts of the control strategy may have worked,” said RSPCA senior wildlife scientist, Colin Booty.
He added that a 10-year study by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on TB in cattle, which cost £50m and killed 11,000 badgers, found that culling them carried the risk of actually increasing the spread of the disease. “The conclusion was that badger culling could make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. It is important to realise that most badgers are not infected with TB. A study of badgers found dead in Wales conducted by the Welsh assembly government published in January 2007 found that seven out of eight badgers tested negative for the disease.”
Nicky Paull, past president of the British veterinary association, welcomed the decision: “We are delighted that the pilot cull and stricter cattle measures have been announced. There is no single solution to tackling this devastating disease. Farmers will also have to understand the huge importance of implementing the stricter cattle measures. The rest of the UK will be watching the pilot cull with interest.”