LONDON Aug 27 A cull of thousands of badgers
began in southwestern England on Tuesday in a bid to slow the
spread of a cattle disease with animal rights activists vowing
to do everything possible to stop the shootings after blocking
the cull for eight years.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said the cull started
overnight with marksmen set to shoot up to 5,000 of the
black-and-white striped nocturnal animals in two test areas of
Somerset and Gloucestershire over the next six weeks.
"We cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every
year because of tuberculosis while knowing the disease exists in
wildlife uncontrolled," NFU President Peter Kendall said in a
letter to NFU members that was posted online.
The government says the cull is "science-driven" and follows
a study that found culling 70 percent of badgers in an area
could reduce by 16 percent bovine TB, a disease that caused the
slaughter of an estimated 28,000 cattle in England last year.
The debate is a sensitive one in Britain, where the mass
slaughter of cattle to control disease in livestock has left
deep scars in the farming community and government following
"mad cow" and foot-and-mouth outbreaks in the past two decades.
Between 1998 and 2005, about 11,000 badgers were killed in
an operation to control badger numbers and farmers, politicians
and animal rights campaigners have since battled in the fields
and in courts over how best to control the badger population.
Activists including Brian May, the guitarist of rock band
Queen, the opposition Labour party and Green party argue the
numbers do not justify killing badgers and have called for a
vaccination programme instead.
Some militant hunt saboteurs have vowed to disrupt the cull
and police have increased patrols in the countryside fearing
trouble between farmers and activists. Hundreds of protesters
staged a vigil event against the cull overnight.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he was aware the
policy to cull badgers was controversial but it was the only way
to manage TB effectively in the short-term.
He said if the pilot culls in these two areas were deemed
"effective, efficient and humane" the cull would be extended to
other locations next year with the aim of making Britain TB-free
within 25 years.
"It is pointless vaccinating diseased animals, particularly
badgers, which have the capability to spread this disease in
such an extraordinary manner," Paterson told BBC Radio.
"We think about half the infections of cattle in the hot
spot areas do come from infection in badgers," he said, adding
that bovine TB was estimated to cost Britain about 1 billion
pounds over the next 10 years if not controlled.
The Humane Society International/UK said it would oppose the
slaughter using peaceful and legal means.
"We are appalled to learn that the mass shooting of badgers
has begun in our countryside. This is a dark day for Britain as
science and ethics have been sacrificed at the altar of
political expediency," said Mark Jones, executive director for
HSI/UK, in a statement.
(Editing by Stephen Addison)