More than 30 of the UK’s leading animal disease experts, including the president of the Zoological Society of London, Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, and professors from Oxbridge and Imperial College London, have written a letter to the Observer which argues culling badgers could increase the problem of TB in cattle.
The signatories also include Professor Lord Krebs, a world expert in zoology, who originally commissioned research into whether culling badgers will stop the animals spreading cattle disease.
The letter states: “The Government’s TB-control policy for England includes licensing farmers to cull badgers. As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it. Even if such increases do not materialise, the Government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the costs for either farmers or taxpayers.
“Unfortunately, the imminent pilot culls are too small and too short term to measure the impacts of licensed culling on cattle TB before a wider roll-out of the approach.
“The necessarily stringent licensing conditions mean that many TB-affected areas of England will remain ineligible for such culling. We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.”
The group of scientists say they believe that culling badgers “is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication” and they “urge the Government to reconsider its strategy”. On Friday, David Heath, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, said the badger cull would be a “contribution towards bearing down on the disease”.