The admission that free shooting of badgers in Somerset and Gloucester has failed to reach its 70% kill target leaves government policy in disarray. I fear the result will be to spread bovine TB in the short-term as badgers are disrupted by the shooting. Infected survivors can now colonize areas that were previously defended by healthy badgers.
We all agree that Bovine TB is a terrible disease and has to be brought under control. In 2011, 26,000 cattle were slaughtered, costing us £90m in testing and compensation. This puts and enormous financial and emotional burden on farmers. It is of particular concern in rural areas like Wiltshire.
The last government’s badger culling trial – a £50m, 10-year study on whether culling badgers helps reduce bovine TB – concluded: “The reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended, and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results … suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.”
The failed recent cull has cost more than it will have saved. The taxpayer-funded policing costs have been £4m for just the two existing cull areas. If the cull is rolled out to 10 new zones each year, these costs will balloon.
To bring this disease under control, we need stricter management of cattle movements and to prioritise badger and cattle vaccination. The biggest obstacle to a vaccine is EU opposition: we should be building alliances in the EU to get restrictions on vaccinating cattle lifted.