NFU President Meurig Raymond confirmed the policy is underway again in a letter to NFU members in which he stresses that controlling bovine TB in badgers ‘has to be an essential part of any strategy to wipe this disease out’, particularly in the South West where the disease is endemic.
He said he was confident the four-year pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset would help reduce bTB in cattle and said it was vital they were allowed to be completed.
The Independent Expert Panel, which monitored the first year of culling in the Somerset and Gloucestershire pilots, made recommendations to improve the delivery of the culls this year, after concluding they failed to meet the criteria set for effectiveness and humaneness in year one.
The target numbers will be much lower in both pilot areas. In Gloucestershire the contractors will be required to remove between 615 and 1,091 badgers over the six-week period, while in Somerset the target is between 316 and 785 badgers.
Mr Raymond said the two licensed companies, Gloscon in Gloucestershire and HNV Associates in Somerset, have implemented these recommendations for this year.
“I know the people delivering the culls are focused on carrying them out as safely, humanely and effectively as possible so they provide the maximum benefit in the fight against bTB and I applaud their commitment and dedication to carrying out this job in often difficult circumstances,” he said.
“No one would choose to kill badgers if there was an effective alternative in areas where TB is rife,” he said.
“But if we’re ever going to get on top of bTB in areas where the disease is endemic there is no other choice.
“The Chief Vet has said culling over a four-year period in both pilot areas will have an impact on disease control. I am confident that these pilot culls will help deliver a reduction in bTB in cattle and it is vital that they are allowed to be successfully completed so they can deliver the maximum benefits.”
He stressed that, while culling ‘has to be an essential part of any strategy to control and eradicate bTB in areas where it is endemic’, it is only one part of a much wider strategy to get rid of this ‘terrible disease’.
“No-one has ever said culling alone will wipe out bTB. Only by doing everything we can will we achieve what everybody wants – a TB free England,” he said.
He highlighted the ‘total human misery this disease causes for farmers and their businesses’.
“I’ve sat round farm kitchen tables with families who have been driven to despair after investing time and money building up their herds, only to see them devastated by bTB. I’ve spoken to grown men who’ve been reduced to tears as they load cow after cow, or calf after calf, onto lorries to be taken away for slaughter because of this disease,” he said.
“I also know from personal experience the emotional and economic impact this disease has because my own farm is currently under TB restrictions and I am determined to ensure that everything possible is done to tackle this disease.”
He acknowledged badger vaccination could have a role to play in areas that are clear of bTB to stop the disease spreading any further but said it was ‘unacceptable’ that a workable cattle vaccine’ is still ten years away.
He said it was also vital to keep TB out of the parts of the country where there are currently very few breakdowns.
“Cattle movement controls continue to be tightened where that is necessary, but it is important that these controls allow businesses to continue to operate viably as well as preventing the spread of the disease,” he said.
Defra Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “This year’s culls incorporate improvements learned from last year’s culls and those set out in the Independent Expert Panel’s report. We have made changes to improve the humaneness and effectiveness, including better training and monitoring.
The culls survived a legal challenge from the Badger Trust over the lack of independent monitoring this year.
Miss Truss said: “The culls will be monitored closely and we have published details of the monitoring procedures that AHVLA and Natural England will follow on GOV.UK. As with last year, these results will be independently audited.”
She added: “We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy supported by leading vets which includes cattle movement controls, vaccinating badgers in edge areas and culling badgers where the disease is rife. This is vital for the future of our beef and dairy industries, and our nation’s food security.
“At present we have the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe. Doing nothing is not an option and that is why we are taking a responsible approach to dealing with bovine TB.”
Protestors had a significant impact on last year’s culls and are certain to feature once again this. Gloucestershire farmer Rob Harrison, the NFU’s dairy board chairman, has called for the culls, particularly in Gloucestershire, to be ‘policed properly’.
Badger groups are organising ‘Wounded Badger Patrols’ to search for wounded badgers in the cull areas.
Team Badger, representing 25 different organisations with a total of over 2 million supporters, is calling for the culls to be cancelled, claiming falling bTB numbers in England and Wales show the disease can be controlled through cattle measures.
They described the cull as ‘ineffective, inhumane, costly and pointless’.
Brian May, of the Save Me Trust, said: “It’s almost beyond belief that the Government is blundering ahead with a second year of inept and barbaric badger killing. TB in cattle in England is currently at it lowest level in 10 years, the drop being predictably the result of improved husbandry in cattle.”
In April, former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson announced there would be no further roll out of the badger cull to new areas in 2014. He said it would be necessary to gauge the impact of changes to the 2014 pilots recommended by the IEP before making a decision on roll out next year.