Farming minister Jim Paice has rejected claims that a badger cull is “politically convenient” for the government.
Mr Paice wrote a letter to the Financial Times this week in response to criticism of DEFRA’s plans to carry out two pilot badgers cull in England later this year to combat bovine tuberculosis.
In his letter, published in the FT on Tuesday (20 March), Mr Paice acknowledged that the decision to hold the culls was “an extremely difficult one to make”.
“Nobody wants to see badgers culled, but bovine tuberculosis is taking a terrible toll on the UK’s farmers and rural communities – it forced the slaughter of more than 25,000 cattle in 2010 alone, and it is getting worse,” he wrote.
Mr Paice went on to argue the scientific case for the culling of badgers.
“Science shows, and leading scientists agree, that if culling is carried out in the right way it can help tackle this disease,” he said.
“The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) demonstrated culling has a beneficial effect lasting at least six years and any negative effect – specifically infected badgers moving to other areas (perturbation) – disappeared within 12 to 18 months.
“We have also stated that applicants for the future pilots will have to meet new, strict criteria – not required in the RBCT – to reduce this risk.”
Mr Paice pointed out that a range of measures were already in place to prevent cattle spreading TB to other cattle and that the government was investing heavily in developing vaccines, but usable vaccines “will not be available for years”.
“We have to act now on a disease expected to cost taxpayers £1bn over the next decade and, as efforts in other countries have shown, if we do not control TB in wildlife, we will not be able to control it in cattle either,” he added.
Two pilot culls are to be introduced in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset this autumn. if successful, further culls could be introduced to a maximum of 40 areas across the UK from 2013.