A chance for the badgers

We already know that the first cull pilot failed - the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) said the cull was inhumane and ineffective. English badgers deserve a chance.

I am sure that those of you who have been following the badger cull saga may be wondering what’s next for them.

It’s not all over, as some may think. But depending who wins the next General Election, it could well be.

Since the opposition to the badger cull started there has not been a month go by when the list of arguments against it hasn’t grown, or where those arguments in favour of the cull have not weakened.

So, what’s new?

It is not that we lack alternative solutions.

We know there is one that will solve the problem once and for all: vaccinating cattle.

Is the Government doing enough to ensure that the EU is authorising the vaccine (which has already been developed, together with a test to differentiate between vaccinated cattle and infected cattle) as quickly as possible?

Remember also that Wales, which chose vaccinating badgers over culling them, is already demonstrating that this alternative works with real improvements in cutting the frequency of outbreaks.

We already know that the first cull pilot failed - the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) said the cull was inhumane and ineffective.

We do not have the official results from those assessing the second year yet (because the IEP was scrapped by the Government and there is no longer any independent assessment), but we do know that at least the killing targets were not achieved in Gloucestershire, one of the zones, so ultimately whoever does the assessment ought to conclude that it is still not effective.

The problem is that because there is no longer an independent assessment of the panel, the public will have very little faith in any conclusion published by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on any assessment they might have made. 

When the news of the number of badgers killed was announced around Christmas last year (perhaps released during the holiday period to ensure that few read about it), DEFRA stated that, 

The results for Gloucestershire reflect the challenges of extensive unlawful protest and intimidation.”


We know that this is not true, because the police, (the ones who should know), had said so.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Police stated:

“There was not extensive criminal protest in Gloucestershire, there were only three arrests from criminal offences during the entire period of the cull and most protect activity was conducted lawfully.”


But what about the humane test?

You may remember that the criterion the Government uses to conclude that a method of killing is humane is if less than 5% of the badgers took more than five minutes to die.

In the first year of the pilot the percentage was between 6.4% and 18%, so it was definitively not humane.

What about the second year?

We do not know yet, but we certainly do know that some of the badgers did indeed suffer inhumane deaths.

For example, we have the case of badger 41, which ended up in the possession of Secret World Wildlife Rescue, which was able to carry out an autopsy.

The facts from Badger 41′s post-mortem are clear. 

The bullet’s entry point had missed the heart-lung target area recommended by Government guidelines to avoid prolonged suffering and ensure rapid death. There had been no follow-up shot, nor had the shooter or shooting team managed to find the badger. Also, as has happened with the overwhelming majority of dead badgers that were tested for TB, Badger 41 tested negative.

If we look at the figures for number of cases of bTB in cattle, although it is too early to see the effects of the cull, all preliminary data shows that it had no meaningful effect. There has been a slight decline in outbreaks over the last few years, and in the counties where culling took place there is no evidence yet that such decline has increased more since the cull started than in their adjacent counties where there was no cull.

Is this surprising?

Of course not.

The experts on this issue had already said from the very beginning that badger culling would not meaningfully contribute to a reduction of bTB outbreaks in cattle. And the more new data that comes in, the more experts join them in that opinion.

Indeed, recent research has added to the arguments against the cull.

Modelling produced by researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has found that in a region containing about 1.5m cows, of which 3,000 to 15,000 might have TB, badger culling could account for a reduction of 12 in the number of infected cattle, while reducing the testing interval by one month could reduce the number of those infected by 193.

So, there are far better and cheaper solutions than badger culling, as we have been saying all along.

However, we already know that this cull is unscientific so for those that defend it, including Cameron’s Government, what most scientists say does not matter.

For them it does not matter what the public says, what the experts say or what the MPs say either.

They still want to go ahead.

It is very difficult to find any better example in modern democracies anywhere in the world of a policy being pushed forward with less support.

But perhaps our hopes must lie in the fact that we are in a democracy, and every few years we have the chance to decide who is going to be in Government for the next few years.

That chance is upon us.

In May, badgers in England may get another chance.

I hope that we do not waste it.


For more information about IFAW political advocacy efforts, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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