2015 news review: Badger cull pilots continue

The government must implement its 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB in full, and as soon as possible, including the extension of the badger cull to other counties, the NFU says.

Pilot badger culls were held in Somerset, Gloucestershire for the third year in 2015, while TB rates remain stubbornly high in beef and dairy herds.

The NFU said it was “disappointed” that after winning the election outright, the Conservative government had decided to extend the cull to just one additional zone in 2015, namely Dorset.

See also: 2015 – The farming year in brief

Defra opted to take a cautionary approach to widening the policy amid ongoing concerns about the effectiveness and humaneness of shooting free-roaming badgers with firearms in the first round.

Animal welfare groups including Stop the Cull, Humane Society International (HSI) UK and the Badger Trust, have dismissed the cull as an expensive failure.

But Defra and the NFU insist that no country has ever got on top of TB without tackling the reservoir of disease in wildlife – and therefore the pilots must continue.

Defra’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens told Farmers Weekly he “very much” believes culling badgers can help reduce TB rates in herds, provided enough badgers were culled effectively over a large area.

He said: “Badgers are a key part of TB epidemiology and they have to be dealt with.”

An NFU spokesman said: “Bovine TB is still a huge problem for beef and dairy farmers in large parts of the country.

“We were disappointed that the badger cull was not rolled out to more areas in 2015 where TB is endemic. Any decision on extending the cull will be made by Defra.

“We would also like to see Defra roll out its TB strategy in full as soon as possible, if we are going to stand a chance of beating this disease.”

Secretary of state Liz Truss has signalled that Defra is “absolutely” committed to extending the culls across the country in 2016 to areas where TB is endemic.

Earlier this month, Wales suspended its badger vaccination project in the west Wales intensive action area (IAA) due to a “global shortage in BCG vaccine”.

NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales described the situation as farcical and both organisations urged the government to introduce a comprehensive badger culling strategy in areas where TB is endemic in cattle herds.

Meanwhile, officials in Northern Ireland have ruled out extending a selective badger culling trial to other counties due to “high costs and operational logistics”.