Defra’s chief scientist has launched a thinly veiled attack on opponents of the Government’s highly controversial badger cull – saying they have failed to come up with any effective alternatives.
In a letter to The Independent Professor Ian Boyd says it is crucial to reverse the rapid spread of tuberculosis through cattle, in part by culling the badgers that help spread the disease. He takes issue with critics of the culling programme, which officially commences on Saturday, arguing that “scientific research does support the decision to cull badgers”.
“TB is relentlessly spreading through the countryside and we need to use the tools available to us,” he writes. “Those who do not want culling need to be clear about how they would tackle the disease. The currently available injectable badger vaccine is not a viable method of widespread control in England, and there is less evidence it is effective at reducing TB in cattle than exists for culling.”
Although the trial badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset can begin today, it is up to the culling companies to decide on the timing and they are not expected to proceed for at least a fortnight.
Once they start, the trials must be concluded within six weeks, during which a total of about 5,000 badgers, or 70 per cent of the population in the cull zones, must be killed.
Many scientists argue the cull will make matters worse, increasing movement of infected animals, as fleeing badgers take disease to new areas and vacated areas are colonised by animals from elsewhere.
Animal rights activists are targeting farmers and marksmen involved in the cull and planning to locate and disrupt the secret night-time shoots, in some cases by using vuvuzelas and bright torches to frighten badgers away.
Peter Jones, president of the British Veterinary Association, which supports the cull, called on protesters not to disrupt the culls. “We understand this is a highly emotional issue, but we must be able to gather evidence to enable future policy decisions to be based on science,” he said.