Two badgers near sett © FLPA/Andrew Mason/REX/Shutterstock© FLPA/Andrew Mason/REX/Shutterstock

The number of cattle culled because of bovine TB in the UK rose to nearly 40,000 last year, the latest official government figures revealed.

In the 12 months to August 2016, 39,456 TB-infected cattle were slaughtered – a 15% increase on the previous 12 months.

See also: Read the latest news and features on bovine TB and the badger cull

In an effort to control the spread of TB, Defra extended its controversial badger culling policy in England in 2016 to more “hotspot” counties where the disease is rife.

Natural England issued culling licences to 10 areas in total, with culls in Herefordshire, Devon and Cornwall added to the culls in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

Veterinary advice ‘clear’

Farm minister George Eustice said: “Bovine TB has a devastating impact on farms, which is why we are taking strong action to eradicate the disease, including tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control measures.

“The veterinary advice and the experience of other countries is clear – we will not be able to eradicate this disease unless we also tackle the reservoir of the disease in the badger population as well as cattle.”

An NFU spokesman said the rolling out of culling to seven additional areas meant the measure was now taking place across 10% of the high-risk area.

“We believe there are many other areas where culling can play a vital role in disease control.”

Badger vaccination on hold

In Wales, farm leaders renewed their calls for a badger cull policy to help tackle TB in cattle. This followed the Welsh government’s decision to suspend the badger vaccination project in west Wales because of a global shortage of BCG vaccine.

In response, Wales’ chief veterinary officer, Prof Christianne Glossop, said a limited cull of badgers in parts of Wales with high levels of TB could get under way as early as April 2017.

However, opponents of the badger cull maintain that the policy is costly, inhumane and ineffective.

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand – incompetence, negligence and deceit – and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle-to-cattle infection.

“We could kill every badger in England but bovine TB will continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls.” 

TB-infected cattle slaughterings (12 months to August)

England

29,609  (+9%)

Wales

9,630  (+34%)

Scotland

217 (+124%)