Badgers beware

TOMORROW WILL mark the start of badger culling trials as the government attempts to control the spread of bovine TB.

 

The controversial trials were originally planned to start last year, but were delayed at the last minute because of “higher than expected” badger numbers in the two trial areas.

 

The environment department, DEFRA, is confident the six-week trials, which will take place in Somerset and Gloucestershire, will make a significant contribution to reducing TB. Levels of the disease have been doubling in cattle every 10 years and farmers blame the spread of the disease on badgers. The disease is reportedly destroying parts of the farming community.

 

However, animal welfare groups have long opposed the culls, suggesting that vaccination is the best option. Whether consumers care or not is debatable.

 

A YouGov poll this week showed that while 34% of people oppose a badger cull, the remaining 66% either support (29%), don’t know (22%) or have no strong feelings (15%) about a cull.

 

The survey also revealed that more than a quarter of people (27%) opposed to a cull would change their mind if it meant TB did not spread to other areas of the country. Only 2% of the 1,763 people asked considered a badger cull to be one of the most important issues facing the country at the moment.

 

NFU vice president Adam Quinney said: “Farmers are already playing their part in tackling TB. Robust new on-farm rules were introduced in January 2013 as part of the government’s TB eradication plan, which aims to tackle all aspects of TB infection in the countryside. These rules followed the introduction of additional cattle controls, more pre-movement testing and increased on-farm biosecurity measures last July. But if we are to successfully tackle TB action has to be taken to deal with the reservoir of disease in our wildlife.”

 

However, Philip Mansbridge, CEO of the charity Care for the Wild, cited a Which? survey showing that three out of four shoppers take animal welfare into account when they shop. He said shoppers who don’t want to buy milk from farms where badgers have been culled should go to Asda, Waitrose or Marks & Spencer. Enquiries to the major supermarkets showed that these three chains were the “only ones which could guarantee that their own-brand milk would come from farms outside of Somerset and Gloucestershire”, he said. Mansbridge is also “particularly disappointed” by the Soil Association’s refusal to guarantee that their organic produce would be “badger-friendly”.

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