The British Veterinary Association has expressed concerns over the Government’s plans to extend badger culling next year using controlled shooting as part of revised licence conditions.
Mrs Truss’ announcement on badger culling and new TB cattle controls has been welcomed by the NFU but condemned by Shadow Defra Secretary Kerry McCarthy.
Defra’s stated aim to press on with badger culling in new parts of the country has been accompanied by changes to the licence conditions for groups of farmers carrying out the policy.
The changes to Natural England’s guidance, following a consultation, include:
The guidance also specifies culling will continue to be performed by caged trapping and shooting and controlled shooting of free-ranging badgers.
BVA president Sean Wensley said the veterinary body continued to ‘support targeted, effective and humane badger culling as a vital element of the bTB eradication programme’.
But, reflecting concerns within his organisation about Defra’s preferred culling method, he said: “We remain disappointed that Defra plans to continue using controlled shooting and roll it out to new areas, given that the first two years of culling in the pilot areas failed to demonstrate conclusively that controlled shooting could be carried out effectively or humanely based on the criteria that were set.
“Again, we urge the Government to reconsider this policy and extend badger culling using cage trapping and shooting only.”
He also raised concerns about the proposals to relax the licence conditions in relation to the duration of the culling period.
“It is disappointing that the revised guidance to Natural England is not clearer that a simultaneous and intensive culling operation is the primary goal and does not define this.
“The primary goal must be to cull as many badgers as possible in as short a time as possible, in order to minimise the possible risk of perturbation.”
He welcomed the announcement of new cattle controls, including post-movement testing ad moves to step up biosecurity measures on farms and in the cattle trade.
But he said vets were ‘disappointed to lose the BCG vaccine from the toolbox with the temporary suspension of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS)’.
NFU President Meurig Raymond paid tribute to the cull companies and contractors in all three areas who he said had ‘worked extremely hard to ensure a difficult job was carried out as safely, effectively and humanely as possible’.
“It is clear that lessons have been learned from the first two years of the pilot culls and these have helped ensure the success of this year’s operations,” he said.
“The desire to see culling carried out over a wider area of the country next year will be welcomed by farmers in areas where bovine TB is rife and where culling can play a vital role in disease control.”
He said the NFU would continue to offer help, advice and support to farmers who want to apply for a cull licence.
He added: “The announcement that compulsory post movement testing for cattle moving into the low risk area from higher risk areas will be introduced next year will be welcomed by farmers in these areas who have been frustrated by the lack of progress on this issue."
But he also described the suspension of badger vaccination schemes as ‘disappointing’ but, like the BVA, said the NFU ‘fully understand the reasons for this decision’.
Ms McCarthy, a long-time vocal critic of the Government’s badger cull policy, said: “The fact that the Government snuck out news of its intention to expand the badger cull on the day Parliament goes into Christmas recess says all we need to know.
She called on Mrs Truss to publish figures being collated by the Animal and Plant Health Agency on the impact on bovine TB in cattle in and around the cull areas.
“The Government’s targets and definition of ‘success’ relate only to how many badgers are killed, rather than to any analysis of bovine TB rates,” she said.
“What is clear from today is that the Environment Secretary is stubbornly persisting with a costly policy that the scientific experts have warned is both “ineffective” and “inhumane”, and which will do nothing to combat the dreadful disease of Bovine TB,” the Bristol MP said.