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Animal rights groups clash with farmers over pilot badger cull

PUBLISHED: 09:23 20 July 2011 | UPDATED: 17:40 20 July 2011

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Government reveals plans for ‘controlled shooting’ in bid to control bovine TB

An animal rights group in Kent has slammed plans for a pilot badger cull saying it could increase the spread of TB in cattle.

Tonbridge-based Animal Aid said killing the animals through so-called ‘controlled shooting’ was not supported by sound science.

However, farmers have argued that badger culls are needed to control bovine tuberculosis.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced measures aimed at tackling the disease on Tuesday. These included plans for a pilot badger cull starting next spring in the south west of England, which could then become widespread across the country. It would see marksmen shooting badgers as they roam around at night.

An Animal Aid spokesperson said: “The Government plans to license farmers to shoot badgers at night as they run free. Vaccination has been ruled out as being too expensive. The effectiveness of ‘controlled shooting’, as it is known, has never been evaluated and could even increase the incidence of TB, as infected badgers fleeing from the shooting could take the disease with them. Under current government plans, ‘perturbation’ [the term used to describe when badgers scatter carrying the disease to other farms] will not even be monitored.

“Shooting free-running badgers will be a welfare disaster. In defence of fox hunting, many Tory MPs argued that hunting foxes was humane while shooting them as they ran for their lives was cruel. But in order to suit its own agenda, the Government has now argued the exact opposite in relation to badgers.

“Culling badgers is a Conservative flagship policy and its announcement comes as no surprise, even though the public overwhelmingly opposes a cull and it is not supported by sound science. While the Labour Welsh government has recently rejected a badger cull on scientific grounds, the English government remains committed to appeasing farmers, no matter the cost.”

The group said that improving welfare conditions for dairy cows would reduce bovine TB.

Meanwhile, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) welcomed the Government’s “leadership” in tackling the disease.

Peter Kendall, the union’s president, said: “I join with farmers up and down the country today in breathing an enormous sigh of relief that the Government has shown leadership in tackling this terrible disease.

“Sometimes we have to do what is unpopular because we know it is right. Not taking action is no longer an option and the Government has recognised that. As the most recent science shows badger controls are absolutely necessary, together with cattle controls, to get on top of this devastating disease.

“For our part, the farming industry is ready and able to work responsibly with the Government. We have planned and are fully prepared to put in place self-financing groups; ones that meet the legal and scientific requirements of the Independent Scientific Group trials. We take the challenges of a badger cull extremely seriously and we recognise that any work needs to be monitored closely. We will fully cooperate with that monitoring work. This is not going to be a quick fix and we’re prepared for that.

“We understand there will be some people who are unhappy at today’s decision and we take those views very seriously. But we believe that no-one wants to have a situation where we have long-term infection and diseased animals in our countryside and on our farms. The NFU has commissioned an independent survey which plainly shows that once people understand the clear connection between badgers, cattle and the continued infection of bovine TB, the majority do support effective badger controls.

“Controlling TB in the areas identified by Natural England that have high and persistent disease levels will help to save cattle and ensure that other areas of the country, currently without TB, remain disease-free. That has to be in everyone’s best interests.”

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