Badger cull will go ahead to curb disease
CONTROVERSIAL badger culling to tackle tuberculosis in cattle is set to go ahead this summer, after two pilot schemes were given the green light yesterday.
Pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, which will see the killing of 70% of badgers in each area, have been authorised by government agency Natural England after final licence conditions were met, with a third scheme in Dorset being prepared as a reserve to prevent any further delays.
The two pilot culls were delayed last year in the face of bad weather and the discovery that there were more badgers in the areas than previously estimated.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told farmers at the National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham that he was committed to making sure the pilots went ahead. He said tackling bovine TB had cost the taxpayer £500 million in the past 10 years, and costs could reach £1 billion over the next decade if the disease was left unchecked.
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He said that research in the UK had shown that culling badgers, which can transmit TB to cattle, could reduce the levels of the disease in herds.
He said he wanted to see effective and affordable vaccines deployed for both cattle and badgers as quickly as possible but it was likely to take another decade before the deployment of a cattle vaccine which is validated and legal under EU regulations.
Mr Paterson said: "Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry."
He said Natural England issued authorisation letters which confirmed culling could proceed this summer, as an important step towards taking the action needed to tackle the spread of TB in wildlife.
The move was criticised by Labour, which has consistently opposed a badger cull. Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "The Government is pressing ahead with a badger cull despite 150 000 people signing a petition against it last year and scientists warning against this 'untested and risky approach'."
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: "Despite overwhelming scientific, public and parliamentary opposition the Government seems hell bent on pressing forward with their senseless plans to kill badgers."