After months of legal, political and scientific wrangling Defra have announced that the pilot cull of badgers due to begin imminently in two areas of England has been delayed until next year.
The badger cull was intended to tackle the problem of TB in cattle (bTB) in two pilot areas of West Somerset and West Gloucestershire before being rolled out across the country, despite the fact that extensive evidence from a ten-year study of badger culling suggested that this method would only provide a 12-16% reduction in bTB in a best case scenario. The study, led by one of the country’s leading zoologists, Lord Krebs, came at a cost of nearly £50million to the English taxpayer and revealed that culling badgers could ultimately contribute to the spread of the disease.
Following high profile campaigning and publicity, a petition launched by Queen guitarist Brian May against the cull gained more than 160,000 signatures and ultimately granted the cause a parliamentary debate set for this Thursday. Amidst mounting pressure Defra today announced a delay of the ill-fated policy, blaming bad weather, protracted legal discussions and the Olympics for the decision.
Brian Davies, Founder of Network for Animals (NFA), said, “We applaud Defra for listening to the widespread opposition not only from members of the public, but from eminent scientists and leaders within the animal welfare community. We will now redouble our efforts to stop this ‘Coalition of Badger Butchers’ from being able to see this disastrous policy through.”
Pursuing alternatives, including funding badger vaccination projects, has been a key element of NFA’s ‘Shooting in the Dark’ campaign against the cull. Following today’s announcement, the campaign will focus on the need for implementing effective biosecurity measures, improving cattle welfare and pushing for cattle vaccination to be rolled out across England.
Badgers have taken the blame for TB in cattle since the first infected badger was found in 1971. However, the link between TB, badgers and cattle has long been questioned, with cattle to cattle transmission of TB identified as the main culprit. In recent months a cattle vaccine and the associated DIVA tests which differentiate between infected and vaccinated cattle became ready for licensing, but face political obstacles to their introduction in England.
Brian Davies continued, “We will seize the opportunity of this delay to continue working with the Government, farming and animal welfare communities to tackle the problem of TB in cattle in the most humane, sustainable and effective manner possible.”