Farming News - Opinion over badger culling divided in veterinary profession

Opinion over badger culling divided in veterinary profession

26 Mar 2013
Frontdesk / Livestock


Vets from the British Veterinary Zoological Society who work with wild and exotic animals have publicly questioned the government's badger culling policy and the British Veterinary Association's support for badger culling. BVZS, a specialist branch of the BVA, urged the wider veterinary organisation to reconsider its support for the government's trial culls which will be carried out in the South West later this year as part of the bovine TB eradication policy.


Trial culls are set to begin in South West England later this year, having been postponed at the eleventh hour in 2012

BVA has pledged support for the government's trial culls, which will measure whether markspeople can kill 70 percent of badgers in two areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset over a six week period. A BVA spokesperson said the Association supports the trial culls as these have been designed to investigate whether the government's chosen strategy of 'free-shooting' badgers is "safe, humane and cost effective," and may eventually contribute to an effective bTB control strategy.


However, in a policy document released by the organisation, its first communication which explicitly deals with the issue of bTB and the government's response, BVZS said it "does not believe there is currently scientific evidence to suggest that a targeted cull of badgers can contribute positively to the overall control of bTB in cattle, can be employed in a way that protects animal welfare, or is economically viable."  


BVZS made a series of recommendations for effective bTB control, which include better biosecurity measures, increased efforts to prevent cattle-to-cattle transfer and, eventually, vaccination of both badgers and cattle. The organisation also urged the wider BVA to re-examine its position on culling.


Although BVZS' statement was welcomed by anti-cull organisations including the Badger Trust, BVA said its stance had not changed and added that its officers had met with the BVZS's policy team over the policy document.


Disagreement over trial culls


Peter Jones, President of the BVA, maintained on Monday that the Association's stance and the government's badger culling policy are based on "robust scientific evidence." He said, "BVZS recently raised some questions about the wildlife control elements of our position and we have been in dialogue with their Officer team in recent weeks to explain more of the background and science behind our policy. BVZS now understand our policy more clearly which is that we support the pilot badger culls in England in order to ascertain whether the cull can be delivered humanely, effectively, and safely using controlled shooting."


He continued, "BVZS was reassured to know that if the pilots reveal that any of these aspects is not deliverable then BVA would revisit our position, and this has gone some way to allay their concerns."


However, Dr Elizabeth Mullineaux, of the BVZS wildlife group said, "There's a difference between understanding what they mean and agreeing with it. The pilot culls are an exercise in seeing if badgers can be shot humanely, effectively and safely. This exercise is not worthwhile by anyone's estimation unless it forms part of a methodology that can reduce TB in cattle and for the reasons outlined in the BVZS statement, this is simply not the case."


Dr Mullineaux told Farming Online that BVZS does not believe current scientific evidence supports badger culling as a means of effectively combating bovine TB. She said "This is a well researched area and we disagree with BVA that the science has changed since the publication of the RBCT." The Randomised Badger Culling Trials were conducted under the previous government and produced much of the information on which the government's current strategy is based. However, the scientists leading the trials concluded that "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better."


Keen to point out that her organisation's conclusions are the result of examining the available evidence and not formed out of sentimentality, Dr Mullineaux said she believes that "this is a political issue, not a scientific one." She added that the badger cull risks having devastating impacts on wildlife and farmers, who will front much of the money to fund culling, and that veterinarians may have some responsibility to contribute to the debate.


Dr Mullineaux said BVZS does not support the pilot culls, as these are not set to ascertain whether badger culling would be a success in terms of reducing the instance of bTB in a given area, but merely "whether shooters can kill a certain number of badgers within a certain amount of time by shooting free-running animals."