Simon King: Badger cull science is skewed to appease farmers
Ministers have been accused of selectively picking facts to justify the badger cull as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson announced two "pilot" projects in the South West are "proceeding to plan".
Somerset-based television presenter and cameraman Simon King, who is president of the Wildlife Trusts, warned the cull could do more harm than good and urged the Government to put pressure on Europe to allow a trial of vaccines for cattle.
He said the findings of the Independent Scientific Group report was skewed to appease farmers, even though the research concluded that culling could not make a meaningful contribution to tackling TB in cattle.
He said: "The report was based partly on the results of killing 11,000 badgers to establish whether this could make a meaningful contribution to the control of bovine TB (bTB) in England. The unequivocal conclusion was that it could not.
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"The problem is bTB in cattle – affecting a massive industry and individual farmers. The problem is not badgers.
"The fact is that this devastating disease can be carried by virtually any warm-blooded animal, including hedgehogs, rats, domestic cats, rabbits and so on. The vast majority of badgers in England are bTB-free."
Controversial culling of badgers to tackle tuberculosis in cattle got under way last week, with around 5,000 badgers set to be killed over a six-week period in two pilot culls in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire.
The pilot culls aim to assess if culling can be done effectively, safely and humanely, with plans to roll out the scheme more widely in areas which are hotspots for TB in cattle.
Farmers and the Government insist culling of badgers, which can spread TB to cattle, is needed to stop spiralling rates of the disease in herds. But opponents say culling the protected animal will have only a small effect on infection rates in cattle and will lead to badgers suffering.
In a written statement to the Commons, Mr Paterson insisted the decision to pilot a badger cull was "not one that has been taken lightly".
Confirming that culling had got under way, he said: "I understand the pilot cull is proceeding to plan and those involved are pleased with progress to date."