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London (AFP) Oct 23, 2012
Britain on Tuesday delayed controversial plans to cull thousands of badgers in a bid to fight bovine tuberculosis, in the latest U-turn by Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said that plans for two pilot culls would now be postponed until mid-2013 after the National Farmers Union (NFU) said conditions were not right to go ahead with them this year.
The climbdown came after wildlife experts condemned the plan and Queen guitarist Brian May spearheaded a high-profile campaign against the plans to kill up to 3,000 of the black and white creatures.
"I fully support the decision by the NFU to delay the start of culling operations. I must emphasise that there is no change to the government's policy," Paterson announced in parliament.
The minister said that bad weather over the summer, drawn-out legal proceedings and a request by police to delay the culls until after the 2012 London Olympics meant it was now too late in the year for the culls.
The NFU said that badger numbers had risen in the two proposed culling areas and that they could no longer be confident of removing at least 70 percent of the animals, which is the level needed to fight TB.
"By starting the pilots next summer we can build on the work that has already been done," Paterson said.
An initial licence for a pilot cull was issued last month to farmers in Gloucestershire, western England.
Farmers say the measure is required to tackle TB in cattle because badgers spread the disease to livestock, costing owners and the taxpayer millions of pounds a year.
Around 18,213 cattle were slaughtered because of TB infection from January to June 2012, according to government figures.
But the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said the government should vaccinate badgers instead, while animal rights activists have threatened direct action to disrupt culling.
Cameron's government has suffered a series of recent embarrassments, from the resignation of a cabinet minister who swore at police to the prime minister backtracking on an announcement on energy costs.
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