End support for badger culling, vets told

British Veterinary Association should change its stance on culling because it's inhumane and there is no guarantee that it will reduce levels of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, say campaigners.

Too many badgers died cruel deaths in the first year of culling, according to a government-appointed expert panel. © DamianKuzdak/iStock
Too many badgers died cruel deaths in the first year of culling, according to a government-appointed expert panel. © DamianKuzdak/iStock

Two of Britain’s leading animal welfare and wildlife conservation organisations have called on the body that represents Britain’s vets to drop its support for badger culling.

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The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has described culling as “a necessary part of the comprehensive strategy for control and eradication of bovine tuberculosis (bTB)”.

But Mark Jones, wildlife policy manager for the Born Free Foundation, and Alastair MacMillan, an advisor to the Humane Society International UK (HSI UK) – both vets themselves – have said the BVA ought to “re-evaluate its position” on culling.

In the past, the use of culling has been an “automatic reaction” to the problem of dealing with diseases, such as bTB, in wildlife, they said.

“However, more recent developments in epidemiology, biosecurity, ecology and the availability of vaccines often provide alternative solutions which should be fully explored before adopting a lethal option,” they wrote in a letter to Veterinary Record earlier this month.

“In our view, it is unethical to apply harmful interventions, particularly those that are known to cause substantial suffering, without being certain of their success or without exhausting all other alternatives.”

Last April, the BVA called for the shooting of free-running badgers – so-called ‘controlled shooting’ – to be discontinued in the light of results from the first two years of culling in the pilot zones of Gloucestershire and Somerset.

But because the BVA still supports culling as a policy intervention, it said it should be “rolled out using cage trapping and shooting to other areas where badgers contribute to the high incidence of TB in cattle”.

The Government’s Independent Expert Panel (IEP) – which was later disbanded – reported that, during the first year of culling in 2013, too many badgers suffered slow deaths.

Its analysis concluded that somewhere between 7.4 and 22.8 per cent of badgers survived for more than five minutes after being shot.

In response to Born Free and HSI UK, BVA president Sean Wensley reiterated his organisation’s support for culling through cage trapping and shooting only.

“We have always argued that bTB will only be eradicated through a comprehensive programme utilising all of the tools available, including the Defra-supported campaign to strengthen biosecurity measures on farms and in the cattle trade,” Wensley added.

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Defra says that the cost of controlling bTB in cattle now amounts to an estimated £100m a year. According to Mark Jones of Born Free, the three culling programmes set up to date have cost £25m over three years.