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Last year’s badger cull was a costly failure says PETER FROST

Last year’s badger culls were a fiasco, from beginning to end says a Government commissioned report.

Worse, it now seems that Defra’s own figures on tuberculosis levels in cattle, used to justify the cull, have been exaggerated. Despite this Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, still has fixed ideas on rolling out this disastrous and highly unpopular cull policy to other areas of England.

These culls need to be stopped.  Scientists and badger experts know that shooting badgers simply doesn’t work.

Independent scientific assessment of last year’s badger culls have confirmed what many of us knew all along. The cull was expensive, inhumane and an almost total failure.

The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) who has issued the report, was appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to help ministers evaluate the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the cull.

Defra had agreed with badger experts and shooters that a humane standard was for no more than 5% of the shot badgers to take longer than five minutes to die.

In reality the so called experts behind the guns managed to ensure one badger in five was not a quick clean kill but lingered on for more than five painful and distressing minutes.

The cull, despite being extended, failed miserably to hit the hoped for targets in reducing badger numbers. 1700 badgers, far less than the planned target, were shot causing the government to accuse the animals and their supporters of moving the goalposts.

Final accounting figures show that the two pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire cost more than £7m. That adds up to over £4,000 per badger killed. £2.6m was spent policing the cull, farmers’ costs were £1.49m, and the cost to the government was £3.2m.

The total number of badgers killed was 1,771 meaning an amazing cost of £4,121 for each animal slain.

Dominic Dyer, of animal charity, Care for the Wild, said the government had delivered one of the “most disastrous and expensive wildlife culls in history”.

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“It has wasted millions of pounds on a badger cull which has no scientific, animal welfare or economic justification and was carried out in an outrageously sloppy manner which would have been laughable if it hadn’t cost so many badgers’ lives.”

Prof Rosie Woodroffe, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, said that the panel’s “findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.

“I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle,” she told us.

The pilots were supposed to reduce the incidence of Bovine TB in cattle but  extensive research carried out by Prof Woodroffe has shown that a failure to kill the targeted 70% of badger numbers could actually worsen matters as disturbed and diseased animals take the TB into new areas.

Prof Woodroffe was among 32 scientists who wrote to Owen Patterson in 2012 expressing fears that the culls risked increasing TB in cattle rather than reducing it.

“Our predictions have been borne out. It has cost a fortune and probably contributed nothing in terms of disease control.”

“The way to solve bovine TB is by radically improving farming practices, ensuring that TB testing actually works, and ensuring infected cattle aren’t moved from farm to farm.”

Defra has claimed the costs of the badger cull pilots “are vastly outweighed by the impact that bovine TB is having on our farming industry and taxpayers”.

“Each bovine TB cattle outbreak costs an average £34,000, and if left unchecked this disease will cost the taxpayer £1bn over the next 10 years,” it said.

We know there are better and more humane ways to deal with this disease, through vaccination for badgers and cattle, improved on-farm bio-security measures and greater control over cattle testing and movement.

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There is no doubt the bovine TB is a real threat to Britain’s farmers but the reality, as this most recent report proves, simply shooting badgers is not the way to solve the problem.

Defra Minister Owen Patterson must end to all badger shoots right now and use the time and money he saves to really get to grips with bovine TB.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star 14 march 2014

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