By Gavin Grant
It defies belief that the government is trudging on with its senseless plans to kill badgers, despite overwhelming scientific, public and parliamentary opposition.
We think the government has taken the wrong fork in the road with this policy, which is full of risks and will contribute little or nothing to eradicating TB nationally.
Instead it will wipe out huge numbers of this much-loved species - including many healthy animals. It will also be ineffective, wasteful and potentially damaging to the welfare of both farm and wild animals.
Our position is science and ethics-based, not a sentimental response to Wind in the Willows. The government's decision flies in the face of all the evidence, for example the EU commission only this week advised the government that the only way to get rid of bovine TB is to improve cattle movement restrictions in the UK.
In addition, the independent scientific group on cattle TB (ISG) provides robust scientific evidence that a cull won't work.
The study was the result of painstaking research over nearly ten years which cost the lives of about 11,000 badgers and taxpayers £50 million.
It concluded that killing badgers could actually increase the spread of bovine TB in the area around the cull, making matters worse rather than better – a process called perturbation. It said "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain".
Although subsequent monitoring of cattle TB levels in the cull areas has shown some ongoing reduction, the decrease is still very modest. Over nine years the average reduction has only been about 16 per cent.
The RSPCA is also concerned about the proposed free-shooting method of killing badgers. If a cull is to be carried out, we believe it should be done in the most humane way possible.
Because of their anatomy it is potentially more difficult to free-shoot a badger in a quick humane way than, say a fox or a deer. This means there may be a high risk of wounding the badgers instead of killing them, and causing a slow, painful death.
We care about cattle and badgers alike and we're sympathetic to farmers struggling to cope with the effects of this crippling disease. Action is needed to combat it – but this is not synonymous with culling.
Indeed, according to Defra's own impact assessment, the cull could end up costing farmers more than an outbreak of bovine TB on their farm would.
Instead vaccination of both badgers and cattle, along with more effective biosecurity, is the way forward. This approach would secure the welfare of cattle and badgers and also farmers' livelihoods long term.
We stand ready to work alongside all those seeking to develop and implement a badger vaccination and biosecurity campaign as the alternative to this barbaric cull.
Gavin Grant is the RSPCA's chief executive.
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