The badger cull is a political fig leaf to the farming lobby

Defra statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers, the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the cull zones

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The Independent Online

Since 2013 the Government has sanctioned the killing of 3,916 badgers at a cost to the taxpayer of at least £25m – that’s £6,384 per badger. By extending the badger cull to five new areas of the country, as planned by the Government, the taxpayer is now facing a bill in the region of £100m by 2020 on a policy that has been failing to deliver its aim – the reduction in bovine TB in livestock.

After four years of culling, it's apparent the policy has been a disastrous failure – it's inhumane, costly and unscientific.

None of the badgers killed have been tested for TB and the vast majority (over 85 per cent) are likely to be TB-free. Many of the badgers have been killed by the cruel "free shooting" method, which results in them taking more than five minutes to die from blood loss and organ failure caused by multiple gunshot wounds. Even though this particular culling method has been condemned by the Government’s own Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association, it continues to be used.

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Defra statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers, the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the cull zones. We could kill every badger in England and remove them in parts of the country where they have lived for over half a million years and TB would still be present in the national cattle herd.

There is now evidence that badgers actively avoid cattle in pastures and farmyards, and cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate, therefore making the likelihood of badgers passing on TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including the cattle themselves.

The Government has demonised badgers for political purposes and is now killing them – at huge cost to the taxpayer – as a political fig leaf to the farming lobby, to mask failures going back more than 40 years in the management of bovine TB in cattle.

The only effective way to reduce bovine TB is to follow the approach of the Welsh government, which is to introduce annual TB testing for all cattle, making use of both the TB skin test and the gamma interferon blood test to better detect TB in cattle. This needs to be combined with tighter cattle movement controls and bio security at the farm gate, including tighter controls over the use of slurry, which can spread TB bacteria.

New TB incidents in the Welsh herd are down by 14 per cent over the past 12 months, and 94 per cent are now free of TB – and no badgers were killed.

It’s time to stop playing the "badger blame game" and introduce a bovine TB control policy that is good for farmers, taxpayers and the future of our precious badgers.

Dominic Dyer is CEO of the Badger Trust, policy advisor of the Born Free Foundation, and author of a new book, Badgered to Death: The People and Politics of the Badger Cull.