The badger cull is to be extended again to more areas of the country despite the success of vaccine trials that could make further killing unnecessary, ministers have announced.
Environment Secretary Liz Truss said the scheme to kill the animals had been successful in meeting its targets in Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Dorset.
“Badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all successful in meeting their targets,” she said in a statement release on Thursday.
“The UK Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice is that the results show that industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits.
“As part of our strategy the Government wants to see badger control over a wider number of areas next year.”
The Environment Secretary added that though six vaccine trials under the private Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme had seen “successful completion” a shortage of vaccines meant the approach would not be rolled out further.
The minister said that government assistance to future vaccine trials would also be suspended.
“Following advice from Public Health England, I have taken the decision to suspend attempts to source BCG vaccine for the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme and other private badger vaccination deployment projects in England until the supply situation is resolved,” Ms Truss said in a statement.
“Our long-term research to develop an oral TB vaccine for badgers and an effective TB vaccine for cattle is ongoing. The minister said attempts to source vaccines for future trials would also be suspended “
The expansion of the badger cull comes despite sustained criticism from animal scientists and vets warning against the cull.
An independent analysis commissioned by the Government warned ministers last year that the policy was ineffective and inhumane.
“Findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria,” Rosie Woodford, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London told the BBC at the time.
“I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle.”
Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust charity, said the Government’s own evidence contradicted the policy.
“Defra's own data suggest that while 15 per cent of badgers may test positive for bovine TB, just 1.6 per cent of them are capable of passing on the disease,” he explained.
“This means 98.4% pose no risk whatsoever to cattle and 85% are likely to be completely bTB free. Trying to control bTB in cattle by culling badgers that don't have bTB doesn't make any sense."
Independent Advisory Panel scientist Professor Timothy Coluson in June accused the Government of abusing the scientific process and “wilfully” ignoring evidence in pursuit of the cull.
"They just want to cull badgers, regardless of whether the population or humaneness consequences can be assessed,” he said.
Only one of four slaughtered badgers tested for TB during previous culls actually had the disease, according to figures released by ministers in the same month.
In November the Government refused to release an analysis it had conducted on whether the cull was a waste of money. Officials argued releasing the document was not in the "public interest".
The chief vetinary officer today said evidence suggested the cull "can" be conducted humanely and effectively but that there was no room for "complacency".
Nigel Gibbens said the level of suffering caused by culling badgers was similar to that generated by shooting deer.
The Government says the cull is part of its strategy to eradicate Bovine TB. The National Farmers Union supports the badger cull because it says the animals spread TB to cattle.
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