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Posted: 4th December 2020

Vets challenge badger cull expansion
The UK Government recently granted badger control license for 11 news areas iof England.

Move welcomed by the Badger Trust.

A group of vets has written to the UK's chief veterinary officer challenging the policy behind the expansion of the badger cull.

In September this year, the UK Government issued badger control licences for 11 new areas of England, in addition to the existing 43 areas covered by a four-year license. The expansion forms part of the Government's plan to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in England by 2038.

In the letter, seven vets question the validity of statements made relating to the perceived role of badgers in the spread of bTB to cattle, and the basis of fact on which such decisions are being made.

The group includes Dr Ian McGill, a former government scientist who blew the whistle on the BSE cover-up in the 1990s, Professor Ranald Munro, chairman of the Independent Expert Panel on the Pilot Badger Culls, and Dr Mark Jones, veterinary surgeon at the Born Free Foundation.

The letter states: 'We are sure you would agree that the badger cull is an unprecedented assault on a protected wild mammal species that should not be undertaken lightly, and certainly not without due regard for the very latest scientific data, in addition to animal welfare and ethical concerns.

'We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you as a matter of urgency, in order to give you an opportunity to clarify the apparent inconsistencies in your statements and advice to government.’

Welcoming the letter, Jo Bates-Keegan, chair of the Badger Trust, said: 
"We welcome this challenge from experts within the veterinary field, as it supports our ongoing concerns. In particular on the ‘risk pathways’ as repeatedly stated by the Government, a key rationale stated as a basis for culling badgers.

"These in our view are entirely subjective and non-scientific, tick-box exercises in determining the potential cause of a herd breakdown. Essentially if no clear cause for bTB in the relevant cattle herd is found, it is put down to 'badgers' if badgers are present at a farm. This approach is at odds with the recently released ‘Badgers Found Dead Study’ which showed very low levels of the disease in badgers."

A Defra spokesman said: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100m every year.

“No one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely. That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England.”

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