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July 29, 2011

Summary of Consultation Reveals 69 Percent Opposed Badger Killing

Humane Society International/UK

  • The UK government plans a mass slaughter of badgers. Valerie Crafter/istock

As the UK government announced its strategy for controlling bovine tuberculosis in England, a newly published summary of the results of last year’s public consultation on the government’s Badger Control Policy reveals that 69 percent of respondents were opposed to the slaughter of badgers.

After much deliberation and speculation, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Minister Caroline Spelman finally announced the government’s strategy last week.

Freedom of Information request

The announcement was closely followed by the publication of a summary of the results of last year’s public consultation on the government’s Badger Control Policy, buried deep in the archive section of DEFRA’s website. HSI UK had asked for publication of the results, through a Freedom of Information request, earlier this month after the government had previously refused a similar request, claiming the information could have a ‘detrimental effect’ on the development of its policy.

69 percent opposed to slaughter

Even a cursory glance at the consultation results indicates that the government has decided to abandon earlier guarantees that its policy on bovine tuberculosis would be ‘science-led’, and that responses to the public consultation would ‘inform the government’s approach to tackling the reservoir of bovine TB in badgers’.

The summary reveals that 69 percent of respondents were opposed to the slaughter of badgers and responses quoted from independent scientists are highly critical of the government’s preferred option of allowing landowners to kill the animals.

Scientific opinion

The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG), charged with analysing the data from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which was completed in 2007, cautioned the government’s assumption that the results of the RBCT (which showed that slaughtering badgers at best had little impact on tuberculosis in cattle) could be used to justify the current plans, which involve very different control methods over different time periods and land areas.

In the run-up to the government’s announcement last week, plans to slaughter badgers were criticised by former members of the ISG, Lord Krebs (now Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee), and the Medical Research Council.

“It is quite clear that the government’s policy on slaughtering badgers has been put together in spite of, rather than in the light of, scientific and public opinion”, said Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of Humane Society International/UK.

“We can only conclude that the government’s decision to slaughter one of Britain’s most iconic creatures has more to do with the fact that senior government ministers at DEFRA, most of whom hail from farming backgrounds, seem more interested in pacifying a misguided minority of their rural constituents.”

Shooting badgers

Sadly, while it’s hard to say exactly who or what will benefit from the strategy, there is no doubt that badgers will be the biggest losers. Tens of thousands of these iconic and well-loved animals are literally staring down the barrel of guns which will be brandished by landowners or their agents.

Animal injury, suffering and death will once again become commonplace in our countryside, in the mistaken belief that this decision will somehow alleviate the financial burden created by a livestock disease problem initiated and spread by agricultural practices.

Humane Society International/UK will be contributing to the current consultation ‘Guidance to Natural England on the implementation and enforcement of a badger control policy’, while continuing to urge government to reconsider its preference for the inhumane mass slaughter of badgers in their efforts to control bovine tuberculosis.

HSI opposes the mass slaughter of badgers as a means of controlling bovine TB, and calls on the governments of England and Wales to instead concentrate resources on reducing cattle-to-cattle spread, and researching vaccines and other preventative methods in order to protect both badgers and cattle against this debilitating and costly disease.

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