Saturday, 30 August 2014

Kill culling not badgers

With the failure this week of the legal bid to stop this years badger culling without independent monitoring, the shooting is set to go ahead. Government still believes culling badgers will curb TB in cattle. Natural England, ironically the arm of the government responsible for ensuring that England's natural environment, including its wildlife, is protected and improved, has recently authorised the killing of a minimum of 615 badgers in Gloucestershire and 316 badgers in Somerset. The Government has refused to rule out the future gassing of badgers (banned over 20 yrs ago in England) and has begun field trials into the gassing of setts using carbon monoxide.  

Our Government continues with its error on this issue despite the consistent warnings given and despite that fact that the pilot badger culls this time last year ended in failure to meet targets and resulted in many badgers taking a long time to die after shooting. Killing badgers is both wrong and unlikely to be effective in fighting TB.

Many countries in the European Union are officially free of bovine TB. Many of these countries have not controlled TB in wildlife to be bovine TB free. Vaccination as a realistic alternative to culling has not been adequately acted on. Injectable badger vaccine trials were scaled back by the then new Coalition Government in 2010.

Lab studies with captive badgers have shown that vaccination by injection with BCG significantly helps in tackling infection. This indicates that vaccination alone could reduce bovine TB in badgers significantly and over a similar time to that suggested for shooting. Vaccination may also be cheaper than shooting. The Government position is not based on the scientific evidence. Non-lethal approaches are enough to tackle bovine TB in badgers.

Humane free-shooting of wild badgers - if there can be such a thing - would need to be successful. Even with people shooting well they are highly unlikely to be 100% 'successful'. Where they are not 'successful' then the chance of inaccurately shot badgers being in pain and suffering increases. This means that shooting cannot be free of cruelty ie humane.

The RSPCA say there are severe welfare concerns about shooting. It has consistently warned of  a high risk of wounding and the small margin for error. It describes the anatomical and behavioural features of badgers that make cruelty free shooting highly unlikely. The Independent Expert Panel report on last years failed badger culling pilot said that 7.4% to 22.8% of badgers shot during pilots were still alive after five minutes.

This Government continues the trend of successive Governments in not basing policy on the scientific evidence and taking action of the type, scale and speed that it suggests. In addition to the badger culling there is also: drugs and their classification; climate change; and over-fishing for instance. The grasp of science, scientific issues and their interrelationship with socio-economic and environmental factors in Parliament, in political circles generally and in the media is, with some exceptions, pretty poor.

More on badger culling here:

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