Humane cull plan looks better for all
Around 5,000 badgers are expected to be shot in parts of England over a six-week period in an effort to control the spread of TB in cattle. It is a controversial move, especially among wildlife organisations, but the large number of badgers in that country and the high cost of dealing with the disease – as well as the financial loss to hard-pressed farmers – has prompted the cull.
What no-one can be sure of is whether it will work as a preventative measure. Experience in the Republic shows that it can, as the incidence of TB reduced after a cull of badgers there.
But Northern Ireland is taking a different approach and one which has found greater favour among those who value badgers. A pilot scheme involving trapping badgers, testing them for the disease, killing those heavily infected and vaccinating the rest is likely to be rolled out.
The theory is that diseased animals will be destroyed and the vaccinated ones will pass on resistance to their offspring, producing a healthier badger population. This is partly guesswork, of course, and it would take some years for evidence to be gathered and studied. Yet it appears to be a more humane approach to a serious problem.
It is no coincidence that farming, wildlife and scientific interests collaborated in drawing up the plan. This was a commonsense approach, allowing all sides to buy into it, hence giving it the best chance of success.
Controlling the disease costs Northern Ireland taxpayers around £25m a year and in herds TB can be crippling for farmers. Agriculture is a very important industry here and it is vital that cattle herds are protected. Inaction is not an alternative.
Perhaps the method of tackling the problem which has been devised here can be a template for other regions in the future.