Network for Animals has welcomed talks in London this week to address the brutal badger culling policy which has so far had little effect on the Bovine TB allegedly linked to badgers. NFA campaign director David Barritt said “we welcome any positive progress that will lead to the end of a badger cull that is cruel, pointless and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The Badger Trust’s CEO Dominic Dyer and Chairman Peter Martin met with UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove on 24 October to discuss the controversial badger-culling and TB-eradication policy which the Trust says has so far cost taxpayers nearly £40 million, with no evidence that it is having any effect. The meeting followed a number of previous discussions with MP’s and advisers to the Prime Minister to chart a better way forward over a TB policy that is clearly failing in England, compared with a more effective strategy employed in Wales.

Dyer said the meeting was good-natured and constructive. “We covered a wide range of topics from the origins of the policy to its basic failure to address the spread of bovine TB. On taking office, Michael Gove publicly announced that he intended to review the science around badger culling and he seemed genuinely engaged and interested in what we had to say.”

“We had a number of specific requests for immediate action,” he said. “The first was that we are aware a large number of badgers from last year’s culls were tested for TB but that Defra (the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) had so far refused to release figures on how many were infected. We urged him to make this information public for the benefit of all. We also asked that Defra be far more open to contact and discussion with wildlife NGOs and other stakeholders with an interest in badger culling and the wider TB eradication policy. We pointed out that we have excellent access to the Welsh government’s TB team at the highest level and that they seemed far more open and accountable.”

“We reiterated all the standard concerns about in-humaneness and the danger of rapid extinction of the badger population,” said Martin. “We also impressed on the Secretary of State that the whole TB eradication policy was both flawed and completely inadequate. Farmers simply cannot wait 25 years to resolve this problem and a fundamental rethink of the policy is needed. We highlighted the complete inadequacy of the cattle-testing regime, the lack of proper risk-based trading for farmers and bio-security advice that is too little, too late, and not enforceable by Defra.”

Martin said the Badger Trust asked the Minister to investigate the failure of Defra to employ the more effective Gamma Interferon test in the high risk area of the UK’s South West and to fast track development of even more effective tests such as Phage PCR. “We pointed out that there was no hard scientific evidence of how, or to what extent, badgers can infect cattle with TB, while the latest studies showed that badgers actively avoid contact with cattle. We pointed our that the government had already spent nearly £40 million of taxpayers’ money on culling badgers with no evidence that it was having any effect or would have in the future.”

Asked its opinion on the origins of the culls Martin said the idea was “based on a deep-seated and misinformed opinion among many farmers and landowners that badgers were to blame for bovine TB and that killing them was the only solution. We pointed out that TB is a complex epidemiological problem and that a crude, indiscriminate cull was a rather grotesque, medieval solution that had somehow survived into the 21st century. The culls are in fact a costly and dangerous distraction from getting on with the real business of eradicating TB.”

“We had the distinct impression that Michael Gove really wants to get to grips with the issue,” said Dominic Dyer. “We ended by expressing serious concerns about how the culls were being handled on the ground, with little or no supervision by the NFU or Police regarding firearms safety, the number of badgers actually being killed and some very worrying reports of violence by cull supporters.”