by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Feb 27, 2013
Britain is set to cull up to 5,000 badgers in a bid to combat tuberculosis in cattle which has outraged animal welfare groups, after two pilot schemes were given the green light on Wednesday.
The culls will see 70 percent of the black and white animals killed in two areas of southwest England -- Gloucestershire and west Somerset -- after the Natural England government agency approved the pilots.
Ministers say culls are needed as bovine TB, which spreads from badgers to livestock, costs farmers and the taxpayer millions of pounds every year.
"Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry," Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told a conference of Britain's National Farmers' Union on Wednesday.
"These pilot culls are just one part of our approach to control and eradicate this dreadful disease."
But opponents claim culling badgers is an inhumane and ineffective way of battling TB.
Britain's biggest animal welfare charity, the RSPCA, described the plans as "senseless".
"All the evidence shows that the answer to the problems of bovine TB in cattle does not lie in a cull that will be ineffective, wasteful and potentially damaging to the welfare of both farm and wild animals," said the charity's chief executive Gavin Grant.
"We care about cattle and badgers alike and have great sympathy for the farmers dealing with the effects of this disease -- but killing badgers is not the answer."
The pilot schemes were due to begin late last year but were delayed in October after condemnation by wildlife experts and a high-profile campaign led by Queen guitarist Brian May.
The government blamed the delay on bad weather last summer, drawn-out legal proceedings and a request by police to postpone the culls until after the 2012 London Olympics.
The National Farmers' Union had also said it was not confident of being able to remove at least 70 percent of the animals, which is the level needed to fight TB.
Almost 35,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 because of TB infection, according to government figures.
Paterson said the disease had cost the British taxpayer £500 million ($758 million, 580 million euros) in the past 10 years, and costs could reach £1 billion over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked.
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