Spelman to unveil badger cull decision

An announcement on badger culling in England is thought to be just days away.

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman is believed to have recommended a limited cull in designated TB hotspot areas over four years. She is expected to outline her plans at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday (7 July), which fuelled speculation of an announcement being made immediately after. But Farmers Weekly understands an announcement is more likely in the week beginning Monday (11 July).

Scientific experts, led by government chief scientist Bob Watson and chief vet Nigel Gibbens, believed a cull would reduce bovine TB in cattle.

Notes of an April meeting at which the scientists discussed the likely effectiveness of a cull were published on Monday (4 July).

They concluded that “co-ordinated, sustained and simultaneous” culling could lead to a 16% reduction in the number of herds hit by bovine TB. However, the scientists acknowledged that what actually happens will depend on specific local circumstances.

“Existing control measures will not be fully efficient without effective measures to address transmission between badgers and cattle,” according to the meeting note.

“If culling is undertaken, it should be in addition to, not instead of, existing bovine TB control measures in cattle.”

These measures should be maintained and strengthened, the scientists believe.

Monitoring the implementation and impact of any badger culling policy is of key importance, the note adds. That said, evidence from the randomised badger culling trial experiment shows that proactive badger control can reduce bovine TB in cattle.

A reduction in new confirmed cattle herd breakdowns is still in evidence more than five years after the final annual proactive cull.

The initial detrimental effect on confirmed herd breakdowns observed at the outside edge of the culled areas diminished over time, the meeting note says.

Even so, it will be 2012 at the earliest before a cull can be implemented.

It is almost certain that a government decision in favour of culling will face a legal challenge from conservationists.

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