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Badger cull - expected to begin within days

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A representative of the National Farmers Union has stated he expects the badger cull to start within days on farms in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire, with speculation that baiting of setts where shooting will be carried out has begun and that cage traps have been issued to farmers.

Surveys of the two cull zones have now been completed by Natural England who are in charge of the process. The cull allows the shooting of free-roaming badgers, as well as cage trapping and shooting and will last up to six weeks. Press reports state that between 70 to 95% of badgers in these areas can be killed, with around 3,500 badgers to be shot in West Gloucestershire and up to 4,000 badgers in West Somerset.

This in spite of more than 150,000 people signing the e-petition calling for a halt and two separate interventions by scientists and vets questioning the basis on which the decision to go ahead has been made. The first was made by more than 30 eminent animal disease experts who described the badgers cull as a ‘costly distraction’ in a letter in the Observer.  They stated it will risk making the problem of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle worse and that it will cost far more than it saves.

The second intervention came from nine leading vets who wrote to Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) warning that the cull license allows the targeting of lactating females, with the danger that dependent cubs would be left in their dens to die of starvation.

The reason given by the government for the cull is that it is to protect cattle from tuberculosis. Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle. It is a serious problem for the cattle industry, causing financial and personal hardship for farmers. The disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer and other mammals.

Campaigners against culling say it will not have a significant impact in reducing the disease and are calling for the government to focus on vaccination instead. The vaccine for badgers - the BCG jab - has been used by a number of wildlife and conservation bodies in England, including the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust. Badger vaccination is also underway in Wales, and there are plans to introduce it in Northern Ireland.

Cattle can also be vaccinated with this vaccine but such vaccination is currently prohibited by European Union legislation because the BCG jab can interfere with the tuberculin skin test, the main diagnostic test for TB. It is not possible to distinguish between a cow with TB and one that has been vaccinated as both would show a positive result when tested. A new vaccine which does not give a positive result in a test has been developed, but will need to go through a period of trialling. This would open the way to the EU lifting the ban on vaccination of cattle, and thus to the possibility of eradicating bovine TB.

To sign the e-petition visit: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257

For further information visit: http://www.badgertrust.org.uk/Content/Home.asp


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