Britain May Cull Badgers in TB Battle

LONDON, Sept. 15 (UPI) — Britain has announced a plan to cull wild badgers to fight the spread of bovine tuberculosis, a move criticized by wildlife advocates.

A proposal to allow farmers to kill badgers has been dismissed as “scientifically among the worst options they could have chosen” by the leading U.K. badger ecologist, The Guardian newspaper reported.

The cull could start in May 2011 and as many as 6,000 badgers would be shot in the first year, the newspaper said.

U.K. Farming Minister Jim Paice said he expected the controversial cull to face legal challenges and cause “some aggravation” but defended it as necessary.

“This is a very, very nasty disease of livestock and since the 1970s it has spread dramatically,” said Paice. “We can’t go on like this, it’s as simple as that.”

In 2009 the U.K. government spent $98 million on compensating farmers for TB outbreaks that led to the slaughter of 25,000 cattle in the west and southwest of England.

Rosie Woodroffe, a badger ecologist at the Institute of Zoology in London, was critical of the plan.

“We consider it likely that licensing farmers to cull badgers would not only fail to achieve a beneficial effect, but would entail a substantial risk of increasing the incidence of cattle TB and spreading the disease,” she said.

Studies have shown culling is only effective if carried out over large areas and several years in a consistent and coordinated way, she said, because small culls simply drive badgers into neighboring areas and increase TB infections.

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