Vets criticise government plan to cull badgers in low-risk areas

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says it cannot fully support the government’s plans to extend badger culling to low-risk areas, raising fears that the policy “lacks an evidence base” and is increasingly led by industry rather than government.

The government announced on 24 May, that culling in a low-risk area (LRA) will only be allowed in “exceptional circumstances” and in “hotspots” identified by the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

BVA president John Fishwick said his organisation supports the principle of badger culling within the LRA of England “where it is done safely, humanely and effectively as part of a comprehensive strategy”.

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But he added: “The lack of detail on the evidence base behind the proposed badger culling methodology in the LRA means we cannot give our full support to the proposals as they stand currently.”

The BVA has called for greater clarity on the decision-making process on how and where badger controls would be introduced in the LRA. But it says Defra’s published criteria does not offer adequate insights into this process.

“BVA are calling for a more rigorous and transparent method that clearly communicates the decision-making process and how it will be evaluated,” said Mr Fishwick.

Time to act quickly

Defra secretary Michael Gove will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to implement badger control to prevent the disease spreading from the hotspot.

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today he wants to “act quickly” with one specific hotspot already identified within a LRA.

“We want to make sure we can contain and eradicate the potential for the disease to spread,” he said. “A cull may be one of the most effective ways of ensuring this.”

According to TFA chief executive George Dunn, the BVA’s concerns are invalid because badger culling is being used alongside other strict controls such as movement limitations and culling infected cattle.

“Where everything that can be done has been done, save for controlling the disease in wildlife, then, as unpalatable as that might be, action needs to be taken, until we have a viable vaccine,” he said.

No evidence?

Dominic Dyer, Badger Trust chief executive, says the government’s policy won’t work and is not justified on scientific grounds.

“This opens the gates to a broader approach to culling across the country,” he said.

“We could see thousands more badgers dying in the LRAs and we’ve got no evidence that it’s working.”

The NFU believes the government must take the “sensible step” of dealing with an identified disease reservoir as effectively and quickly as possible.

A spokesman added: “It is important that farmers in the low-risk area do everything they can to minimise the risk of bringing the disease on to their farms.”