Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Badger culling will go ahead in 2012

Badger culling will go ahead in England in 2012 in an attempt to reduce the numbers of cattle slaughtered after contracting bovine tuberculosis, the environment secretary announced on Wednesday.
Compensation costs for slaughtered cattle would run up to £1bn in the next 10 years, Caroline Spelman said, meaning there was no alternative but to approve the culls. But opponents said the plans flew in the face of the science and would incur policing bills of millions of pounds as protesters targeted the cull sites.
"I have not taken this decision lightly," Spelman said. "But at present there is no satisfactory alternative." She said farmers, who will pay for the culls, would have to apply for licenses to Natural England and the marksmen used would require special shooting licenses.
"Everyone is eager to help the livestock industry control this devastating disease, but we believe today's announcement only offers farmers false hope," said Marina Pacheco, chief executive of the Mammal Society. "The government has based its culling policy on flawed science, while proper research seems to have been disregarded in the lurch towards a policy fix."
Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow environment secretary, said the government was "sleepwalking to disaster" and that a cull would cost farmers more than it saves them. Most farmers support the culling proposals, but more 100,000 people signed petitions opposing the plans in October.
Free-running badgers will be shot in two areas - yet to be decided - by marksmen and the results assessed before deciding whether to push ahead with 10 trials a year. Trials have found that widespread culls conducted rigorously over several years can lead to an average 16% reduction of "confirmed new incidence" of TB in herds.
But the scientist who initiated a 10-year trial of badger culling, Lord Krebs, has said the data showed culling was ineffective. Another scientist, closely involved in the scientific advice used by the government to label their culling proposals as science-led, told the Guardian: "It was a mistake to imply it was possible to have a science-led policy. The science base is relatively minimal, and essentially a political decision had to be made. The government have dug themselves into a hole. My personal opinion is not to cull."
The problem of TB in cattle has risen rapidly, is traumatic for farmers who lose their herds and costly for taxpayers. In 1991, 655 cattle in the UK tested positive to the disease but by 2010 more than 28,500 had the disease. About 25,000 of these were slaughtered, costing taxpayers £90m in compensation payments.
Guardian estimates of the cost of the cull, based on the proposals put forward by the government in the consultation launched in July, suggest over eight years farmers will pay £56m. The total available for vaccination research is £20m.
Guardian estimates of the maximum number of badgers killed a year were between 23,330 and 35,000, meaning that over eight years of culling, between 70,000 and 105,000 badgers will die. About 50,000 are killed on the roads annually. The English badger population was put at 190,000 in 1995 and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced on 5 December that a new survey in England and Wales will take place, at a cost of £870,000.
Badgers have been a protected species since the 1973 Badgers Act and are also protected under European legislation. At the launch of the consultation, ministers accepted that a legal challenge to culling was "almost inevitable". Badger culling proposals in Wales have been delayed by successful legal challenges.
"A vaccination programme, if proven effective, offers considerable potential and a much more publicly-acceptable way of tackling this issue," said Pacheco. The National Trust began a vaccination trial in Devon in April, and in Gloucestershire, the Food and Environment Research Agency and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust are running separate vaccination trials.
Spelman has said previously this is the solution everyone wants, but the government has cancelled five of the six vaccination trials set up by the previous government. The last government said an oral vaccine for badgers would be available by 2015. Spelman said on Wednesday that such a vaccine was "years away" and she "could not say with any certainty when it would be ready."
David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, said: "We are clearly very disappointed by this decision but now that it has been made, we will be studying it with our legal advisers to determine what action we shall take."

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