UK Government Issues Badger Cull Licenses Despite Scientific Opposition

The UK government has recently issued 17 new badger cull licenses, disregarding the advice of Dr. Peter Brotherton, the scientific advisor from Natural England. Leaked documents revealed by the Guardian show that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is continuing the cull to manage bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle, despite Brotherton’s assertion that there is no scientific justification for further culling.

Badgers have been culled to near local extinction due to their role in spreading bTB, a disease that devastates cattle herds. Since the cull began in 2013, over 210,000 badgers have been killed. However, scientific evidence suggests that culling is not the most effective method to control the disease. Brotherton recommended that culls be halted and suggested vaccination as a viable alternative, which would maintain low badger populations and help prevent disease spread.

Defra officials argued that stopping the cull abruptly would erode farmers’ confidence in the government’s disease control efforts. Sally Randall, Defra’s director general for biosecurity, emphasized the need for gradual policy changes to maintain constructive engagement with the farming industry.

Critics, including ecologist Tom Langton and the Badger Trust’s executive director Peter Hambly, condemned the decision. Langton called for an immediate halt to the cull and a review of bTB control methods, while Hambly accused the government of making a politically motivated decision rather than one based on scientific evidence.

The Labor Party has pledged to end the badger cull if it comes to power, aligning with the findings of the 2018 Godfray review, which concluded that culling is not the solution to bTB. Despite previous promises to phase out the cull by 2025, the government reversed this decision, citing an “artificial deadline” and maintaining its commitment to the cull as part of a broader disease control strategy.

A Defra spokesperson highlighted the complexity of managing bTB, which costs taxpayers over £100 million annually and causes significant distress for farmers. The spokesperson emphasized a holistic approach, combining badger vaccination, improved cattle testing, enhanced biosecurity measures, and the development of a cattle vaccine, alongside the ongoing cull policy.

This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 7 June 2024. Image Credit :Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.

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