Badger cull debate rages

Kill badgers to prevent the spread of TB, says the Government’s chief scientist Sir David King.

As reported on Thursday, a petition in favour of the culling of badgers has received 1,000 signatures.

Now, Sir David claims that culling could be effective in areas that are contained, such as motorways. However, a study published in June by The Independent Scientific Group concluded that targeting one site would cause badgers to flee to other farms.

‘Together with five well-respected experts,’ said Sir David, ‘I have assessed the ISG report and other research relating to badgers and TB in cattle. It is clear that badgers are a continuing source of infection for cattle and could account for 40% of cattle breakdowns in some areas.’

He continued: ‘Cattle controls remain essential but I consider that, in certain circumstances and under strict conditions, badger removal can reduce the overall incidence of TB in cattle.’

TB facts (from the National Farmers’ Union):

– Number of new TB outbreaks in 2007, up to August: 2,677

– Number of new TB outbreaks at the same point in 2006: 2,190

– This represents a 22% increase

– 7.7% of cattle tested for TB in 2007 tested positive

– 6.48% of cattle tested for TB in 2006 tested positive

– This represents an 18% increase

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has welcomed the report.

NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: ‘What is the point in putting in place all sorts of costly and disruptive measures to reduce the spread of disease between cattle if you do nothing to prevent it getting into the cattle in the first place? We are not in the least bit surprised at the Chief Scientist’s conclusions.’

David Fursdon, President of the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA), concurred, saying: ‘The Independent Scientific Group’s report, conducted by Prof John Bourne, was never truly independent, hamstrung as it was by its political mandate, which eliminated full consideration of wildlife control which has already been seen to be effective elsewhere.’

Mr Fursdon concluded by saying: ‘The CLA would urge Ministers to act quickly and resolutely on Sir David King’s recommendations.’

However, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the issue was ‘extremely difficult’, with no decisions imminent.

Also, Professor John Bourne, author of the ISG report, said Sir David’s recommendations were not consistent with the scientific findings of his report but were ‘consistent with the political need to do something about it’.

Dr Richard Yarnell of the Badger Trust echoed Professor Bourne’s view, saying that this was a ‘shameful political fix’. He does not believe that culling badgers will prevent the spread of TB.

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