The government has a colony of 101 badgers for experiments to develop a contraceptive and tuberculosis vaccine for the animal, it has emerged. A further 63 government badgers have been “euthanised” in the past two years, according to the results of a Freedom of Information request.
The FOI response also revealed that Owen Paterson’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has spent £1.27m developing oral vaccines in the current financial year, as it seeks to supplement its unpopular badger cull with other methods of reducing their numbers.
The department said some of the badgers in captivity were captured in the wild and others were bred. They are being used in two types of tests.
The first seeks to determine “the efficacy and safety of different oral TB vaccines and determine optimal strategies for bait deployment in wild badgers”.
The second type is looking at “whether contraceptives can provide a humane method of badger management in areas of human/badger conflict”.
Mr Paterson is keen to reduce the level of TB in cattle, in part by killing large numbers of badgers, which most experts agree help spread the disease. However, his trial badger culls have met with widespread opposition on both moral and scientific grounds – with scientists arguing that they make the problem worse as fleeing badgers spread the disease to new areas and infected animals come in from elsewhere to fill the void.
The vaccines and contraceptives – including the pill - the government is working on would be in addition government plans to extend the cull across the country in the next five years – although no final decision has been taken on whether the cull will be rolled out further.
The FOI response revealed that no captive badgers were released back into the wild – but rather were “euthanised when they reach the end of their research protocol”.
The FOI response said “the research is important and of value. Research is ongoing into oral vaccines which are a preferred option for vaccination as they would be simpler to introduce into the badger population and probably cheaper to use than cage trapping, training personnel in vaccination techniques and their deployment in the field would not be needed.”
Defra spokesperson said: “We want to do everything we can to eradicate bovine TB which is devastating our dairy and cattle industries. This includes research into oral vaccines for badgers, injectable contraceptives to control badger populations, and studies in badger behaviour to help us understand the spread of disease. The welfare of animals that are used for this research is upheld based on strict regulations.”