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7,000 The Price of a Badger's Life

Guardian - Sunday 10th December 2000

by Antony Barnett

20,000 badgers will die in a cull to test whether they spread bovine TB. Antony Barnett reports on the battle between animal activists and the Government

Debbie Vincent brandished a pair of bolt-cutters, produced from her ripped Barbour jacket, and began cutting through the bars of a rusty cage placed outside a badger sett in the heart of Exmoor.

As torrential rain fell and thunderclaps sounded, she cut the cage into quarters and hurled it down a grassy bank into a raging river. The cage, laced with peanuts, was intended to snare any badger tempted by the easy meal. A trigger traps the badger, slamming the iron doors shut.

The animals' torment would be ended when an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food arrives at dawn, tips the cage on its side, puts a pistol to the badger's head and blows the creature's brains out. The animal would then be put into a body bag, hurled into the back of a Land-Rover and taken to a government lab to be cut up and examined for traces of bovine tuberculosis.

This is the disease which is sparking real fear in a farming community still devastated by the legacy of mad cow disease. Cases of TB- infected cattle have soared in recent years and farmers blame the badgers for spreading the disease to their cows by urinating on grazing pasture to mark their territory.

As a result, more than 20,000 badgers are to die in a prolonged cull over the next few years. But protesters claim there has never been any firm scientific evidence to prove the link between badgers and TB in cattle.

Two years ago the Government set up trials in 10 'hot spot' regions of the country where more than 20,000 of Britain's badgers would be exterminated. If TB in the trial regions of the badger cull falls, the link will be proved.

Horrified by the killing, a coalition of hundreds of animal rights activists around the country are determined to stop the cull, using direct action to destroy Maff's traps.

Not only do the campaigners argue there is no proof that badgers pass TB on to cows, but they also believe that the problems are down to intensive farming techniques. They want resources spent on promoting better animal husbandry techniques and the development of vaccines.

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