Science chief urges badger cull
22 October 2007 - BBC News
The UK government's chief scientist has advised ministers that badgers should
be killed to prevent the spread of TB among cattle. Sir David King says culling
could be effective in areas that are contained, for example, by the sea or
His report follows a previous study that said culling badgers would be
ineffective. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) found that targeting one
site would only cause badgers to flee to other farms.
Sir David report was submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in July and published on Monday. Sir David said: "Together
with five well-respected experts, I have assessed the ISG report and other
research relating to badgers and TB in cattle. It is clear that badgers are a
continuing source of infection for cattle and could account for 40% of cattle
breakdowns in some areas. Cattle controls remain essential but I consider that,
in certain circumstances and under strict conditions, badger removal can reduce
the overall incidence of TB in cattle."
About 2,500 cattle a year get bovine tuberculosis (bTB), and some 30,000
stock are killed every year because of the disease, according to the National
Farmers' Union. The union also believes a cull is necessary to curb TB in
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the issue
was "extremely difficult". It was committed to "evidence-based policy decisions"
but no decisions were imminent, it said.
The ISG assessed the results of a nine-year experiment to discover whether
killing badgers would stem the spread of disease. Its findings, published in
June, said badgers did play a role in the spread of bTB. However, it warned that
the culling would have to be so extensive it would be uneconomical. It found
that although TB infection dropped in the immediate area of the cull, it
increased on adjoining farms, in effect shifting rather than solving the
Professor John Bourne, author of the ISG report, said Sir David's
recommendations were not consistent with the scientific findings of his report
but were "consistent with the political need to do something about it". "If you
wish to go down the culling route, you have to do what the Irish are doing in
large parts of their country and that is eliminate," he added.
Dr Richard Yarnell from the Badger Trust said the latest report amounted to a
"shameful political fix" and it "beggared belief" that the government was even
thinking about implementing a cull.
The Conservative Party said the government's policy on bovine TB had
"descended into a shambles".
While most cattle farmers may support a cull, it would prove unpopular with
the public. A government consultation of more than 47,000 people found that more
than 95% of people were opposed to the idea.
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