Badger cull to tackle bovine TB 'to be extended'
Animal rights campaigners have condemned reports that a badger cull in England is to be extended to five new areas.
David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of public affairs, said the cull - an attempt by the Government to eradicate bovine tuberculosis - was not necessary.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) refused to confirm or deny reports from the BBC that the cull would be extended.
"The RSPCA believes there are better ways to tackle bovine TB," Mr Bowles told BBC Breakfast.
"It's more expensive to cull. It's more inhumane to cull. It doesn't sort out the problem even if you do it properly."
The BBC reported that Tony Francis, a farmer who had TB in his herd near Okehampton in Devon, said he had signed up to one of the new cull zones to try to prevent the disease from returning.
A Defra spokeswoman said: "Natural England is currently considering applications for further badger control licences as part of the usual licensing process.
"England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries.
"Badger control in areas where TB is rife is one part of our long-term plan, which also includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls and improving biosecurity on farm and when trading."
West Gloucestershire and West Somerset are entering the fourth year of their licences for culling, and Dorset is entering its second year.
In September 2015, then farming minister George Eustice told the Commons that the cull could be extended to other parts of England.
According to the BBC, the shooting of badgers will also begin in early September in South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Dorset and South Herefordshire.
No date has been set by Defra for when the outcome of the badger control licence applications will be announced.
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: "After four years of badger culling, no-one can now doubt that the policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds.
"For the new Defra Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, to ignore the facts and extend this policy into five new areas of the country defies belief.
"The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand - incompetence, negligence and deceit - and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle-to-cattle infection.
"We could kill every badger in England but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls."
Badger Trust chairman Peter Martin said: "The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry that have led to a significant increase in bovine TB in cattle herds.
"Recent changes to the cull licensing regime have made it clear this policy is now just a 'numbers game' based on indiscriminate and untargeted killing of this protected wildlife species. They have abandoned any pretence of science or control.
"We now have conclusive scientific evidence proving beyond doubt that badgers actively avoid cattle in pasture and farmyards, and that cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate.
"This effectively means that the likelihood of badgers passing TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low that it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including cattle themselves.
"By extending the badger culls to five new areas of the country, the taxpayer is now facing a bill in the region of £100 million by 2020 on a policy which will fail to deliver any significant reduction in bovine TB for livestock farmers.
"The Government in Westminster is using badgers as a political fig-leaf to mask its total failure to get to grips with bovine TB.
"They should be looking to Wales to see how they have waged a far more successful campaign against the disease, based on more rigorous TB testing, tighter cattle control and biosecurity measures.
"New TB herd incidents in Wales are down by 14% in the last 12 months and all this has been achieved without culling badgers.
"And as Ireland is also about to abandon its cull policy in favour of vaccination, it is way past the time for Defra to do the same."
Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscapes at The Wildlife Trusts, said: "The evidence shows that badgers are not the primary culprits in the spread of TB in cattle - the primary route of infection is via cow-to-cow contact. A vaccine for cattle should be a priority.
"The Government has failed to develop one for TB. UK cattle are already vaccinated for up to 16 diseases, why should TB be different?
"The results of the previous badger culls indicate that this policy is flawed and unsupported by the evidence.
"Culling has been shown to be more expensive, less effective than other bovine TB control mechanisms and the free-shooting of badgers has been shown to be an inhumane method of killing."