Bovine tuberculosis is a serious infectious disease of cattle that costs the British taxpayer a huge amount of money each year so cattle can be tested, infected animals removed, and farmers compensated. Unfortunately, while bovine TB is clearly primarily a cattle disease spread between cattle, many other mammal species can become infected, including badgers, and since the first bovine TB-infected badger was identified in the early 1970s badgers have been blamed by some in the farming community for the spread of disease among their herds.
In 2011, the government published its Policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England. The policy included plans to reintroduce badger culling in areas of England where TB in cattle is rife. The culls are designed to reduce the risk of the disease being transmitted from badgers to cattle. However, the scientific evidence does not support the culling of badgers as a means of controlling cattle TB. In its 2007 report following the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trial in which 11,000 badgers were killed at a cost of around £50 million, the Independent Scientific Group set up by the government of the time recommended that ‘Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the control of TB in cattle in Britain’.
Sadly, culling began in two ‘pilot zones’ in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2013, and by the end of 2016 a total of almost 15,000 badgers had been shot across 10 licensed zones in 7 counties in the west of England. While there is no evidence that these costly, inhumane and ineffective culls are making any difference to the spread of TB among cattle (indeed many scientists predict they could make it worse), the government intends to continue extending its policy to new areas, and allowing culls to continue for many years to come. As a result, many tens of thousands of badgers, the vast majority of who are perfectly healthy, will lose their lives in the coming years, and badger communities that have existed for thousands of years will be disrupted and destroyed.
Born Free believes that badger culling is inhumane, ineffective and unnecessary, as well as being unscientific and deeply unpopular with the public. We campaign to bring an end to the culls, and instead promote the far more effective methods of controlling cattle TB through better cattle testing, movement controls, and biosecurity measures, and through the development of vaccines to protect both cattle and badgers.