How many badgers does it take to stop bovine TB?

Cruel and unscientific badger cull set to continue in 2017

According to the Government this week, over 33,000 badgers is the answer. That’s right, the badger cull is back, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – it has. Despite the fact that the Government’s own Independent Expert Panel deemed the cull unscientific, inhumane and ineffective (before the Government disbanded it when they didn’t like what it was saying), the cull is not only about to continue, it’s now been licensed to expand dramatically. Science is off the agenda once and for all and it’s a culling free for all.

This year sees eleven new licenced areas, sadly including the extension of the cull into the North West for the first time, with the addition of Cheshire, as well as for the first time into neighbouring Wiltshire.

For the last four years the Government has embraced a policy of killing badgers in areas with a high incidence of bovine TB (bTB) in an effort to reduce the risk of infection from wildlife to cattle. This is despite leading scientists and wildlife experts stating their opposition to the badger cull because it will not significantly reduce incidents of bovine TB. This year could see the number of badgers killed treble from 2016’s record death toll of 10,886, to a maximum target of 33,841.

Most disturbing is the fact that dead badgers are apparently all the evidence required to prove this is a successful strategy, and according to the Government there is no need to prove a link with any reduction in bTB outbreaks. This is truly a ridiculous way to measure anything that claims to be scientific.  

There is simply no evidence that says culling badgers will reduce the levels of bTB on a farm compared to other disease control methods such as improved testing, biosecurity and movement controls. The studies just simply are not there. Over the years more and more experts have expressed doubts that badgers even infect cattle, with studies showing the two species rarely meet. Many would argue cattle are more likely to infect badgers than the other way around.

The only certainty the continuation of the badger cull gives us is that more animals than ever before will die this year due to this ill thought-out strategy – animals that are supposed to be specially protected under the laws of this land. The cull is bad news for badgers and cattle alike. It’s high time that the Government started investing in proven disease control measures or at least in testing how effective they’ve been so far. We can only wonder how many badgers it will take before they realise that. One or two would be enough, but over 30,000 this year alone is criminal.

So how can we stop this? Here at IFAW, we’ll keep on pushing the Government to listen to the science and take an evidence-based approach to tackling bovine TB. You can help, too – get involved on social media by sharing information about what’s wrong with culling badgers.  If you live near one of the cull zones, you can also volunteer with a local wounded badger patrol group; the Team Badger website has all the details.

--PM

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