Badger cull: your questions answered

The badger cull could begin in the West Country on Saturday Photo: PA
Where the two trials will take place. Credit: ITV News West Country

Why is the cull taking place?

  • The Government says culling of badgers is necessary as part of efforts to tackle spiralling rates of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. Some 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012, and officials warn costs to the taxpayer of dealing with the disease could reach £1 billion over the next 10 years. Each individual outbreak costs an average of £34,000, with farmers having to pay £12,000, and £22,000 borne by the taxpayer.
Around 5,000 badgers will be shot dead in the two areas. Credit: ITV News West Country

Nobody wants to kill badgers but the scientific evidence and experience of countries tells us that we will not get on top of Bovine TB without addressing infection in wildlife as well as cattle. A badger vaccine has practical difficulties and there is not yet any evidence on its effectiveness. If a cattle vaccine was available now, we would use it, but we know that it is around 10 years away and we cannot wait while this disease spreads across the country."

– David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, and Minister in Defra

What is the evidence for a cull of badgers?

  • It is widely accepted that badgers spread TB to cattle, and officials estimate around half of herd infections come from badgers. A long term study showed that proactive culling of 70% of the badgers over a 150 square kilometre area over four years could be expected to reduce the incidence of the disease in herds by 16%. The reductions were greater inside the cull area, but culling caused badgers to move around as their social structure was disrupted, spreading disease and causing a short-term increase in infection in herds just outside the cull area. 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.
This farm in Somerset was clear of Bovine TB up to three years ago. Credit: ITV News West Country

A cull is not about wiping out badgers. It is about reducing TB in areas where it is endemic. This will ensure this terrible disease doesn't spread to areas of the country that are currently clear of it. Robust new on-farm rules were introduced in January 2013 as part of the Government's TB eradication plan, which aims to tackle all aspects of TB infection in the countryside. These rules followed the introduction of additional cattle controls, more pre-movement testing and increased on-farm bio-security measures last July. But if we are to successfully tackle TB, action has to be taken to deal with the reservoir of disease in our wildlife."

– Adam Quinney, Vice President, National Farmers' Union

Why is it controversial?

  • Experts, including some involved in the 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. But farmers say the disease is devastating their businesses and lives and that everything possible must be done to tackle it.
Campaigners against the badger culls say they will disrupt the trials. Credit: ITV News West Country

Incompetent Defra ministers are pressing ahead with a badger cull despite scientists warning against this untested and risky approach. The policing costs, paid by the taxpayer, will balloon to £4 million while bovine TB will increase in the next two years as the shooting displaces badgers. We need a science-led policy to manage cattle movements better and a vaccine to tackle TB in cattle."

– Mary Creagh, Labour MP, and Shadow Environment Secretary

So why isn't the focus on vaccination?

  • 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. Nevertheless, Wales has opted for a vaccination strategy, and a number of landowners, including conservation groups and some farmers, are vaccinating badgers on their land. Officials estimate it will take some ten years to get a usable vaccine for cattle that is allowed under EU trade rules.
A badger being vaccinated. Credit: ITV News West Country

We have not taken the decision to support the pilot badger culls lightly; we have considered all of the scientific evidence, which supports the management of bovine TB in badgers in order to reduce the incidence of the disease in cattle. We accept that there is a gap in our knowledge, which is whether controlled shooting can deliver a badger cull humanely and safely, and to the same degree of effectiveness as cage trapping and shooting. That is what the pilots are designed to address and why it is important that they are allowed to go ahead unhindered. We understand that this is a highly emotional issue but we must be able to gather the evidence to enable future policy decisions to be based on science."

– Peter Jones, President, British Veterinary Association