Badger-lovers demand an end to slaughter

About 14,000 have been killed in failed bid to halt TB and new strategy will double the deaths, it is claimed. Nicholas Schoon reports `This killing has clearly failed in its objectives'
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The Independent Online
Badger-lovers, led by the botanist David Bellamy, yesterday demanded an immediate end to 20 years of slaughtering badgers to protect cattle from tuberculosis infection.

About 14,000 badgers have been killed over the years, first by gassing setts with cyanide and then by luring them into traps with peanuts and shooting them in the head. Professor Bellamy, a broadcaster and environmental campaigner, said: ``This badger slaughter is a cruel waste... which has very clearly failed in its objectives.''

The National Federation of Badger Groups claims that the Ministry of Agriculture's latest control strategy in South-west England, the worst affected area, will double the number of badgers being shot.

It points out that the number of South-west cattle farms struck by tuberculosis has been rising rapidly through the Nineties despite the continuing badger culls. It says existing policies are as likely to be exacerbating the spread of tuberculosis among badgers and cattle as reducing it, because badger culling destroys their ability to defend territories, making them more likely to wander.

The federation, which represents 80 groups nationally, told the ministry yesterday that cash spent on trapping and killing badgers should be diverted into further research on how the disease spreads in cattle and badgers, and between them. Farmers shouldreceive full compensation for cattle they have to slaughter because the animals are found to have tuberculosis; at present they only get 75 per cent compensation.

But, in return for receiving that compensation, they should promise to change the way they run their farms to reduce the chances of cattle infecting each other. Mike Boyes Korkis, the federation chairman, suggested one change could be double fencing witha gap between at a boundary separating farms to prevent different cattle herds getting close to each other.

Farm outbreaks of the disease in the South-west rose from 98 in 1991 to 236 last year. The drastic increase may be connected with farmers buying in new dairy cattle to replace those affected by the "mad cow disease", BSE.

The ministry is trying out two main approaches in the region, old and new, to compare their effectiveness. The traditional strategy, which has been going on since gassing ended in 1982, is to trap and kill all badgers on farms where the disease occurred in cattle. The federation says that method is ``generally recognised to have no scientific or epidemiological basis''.

The new strategy is to trap badgers on a farm where the disease has appeared, and on all surrounding farms, then take a blood sample to find out if they are carrying tuberculosis. A quick-acting test developed by ministry scientists makes this possible.

If only one animal from a sett is found to have tuberculosis then every badger trapped from that sett would be killed - bar mothers still giving milk to cubs. If they are all clear, the badgers are freed. The federation says this will mean even more badgers being killed, many of which will not have tuberculosis.

Dr Chris Cheesman, a senior Ministry of Agriculture scientist studying wild badgers, said there was ``overwhelming evidence'' that the animals were a significant reservoir of tuberculosis and did pass it on to cattle.