LONDON – Jim Paice, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), announced landowners and farmers from West Gloucestershire and West Somerset can now apply for licenses to shoot badgers to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

In 2010, the disease required the culling of 25,000 cattle. Over the next 10 years, it has been estimated dealing with this disease could cost taxpayers around £1 billion (US$ 1.5 billion) if not effectively addressed.

The two areas were selected as the most suitable to pilot controlled shooting of badgers. This forms part of a science-led and closely monitored policy to bring bovine TB under control, Paice said.

“Bovine TB is a chronic and devastating disease,” he added. “It causes the slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle each year, and is taking a terrible toll on our farmers and rural communities. Nobody wants to cull badgers. But no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife, too."

The two pilot programs are part of a wide range of activity on bovine TB, he added. “We already have robust measures to control its spread amongst cattle, which we plan to strengthen further, and are continuing to work hard on the development of practical and usable vaccines,” he said. “Natural England will now assess applications against a set of strict criteria. If these are not met, licenses will not be granted.”

The culls will allow the careful examination of how safe, humane and effective controlled shooting is. Farmers and landowners in these areas can now apply to Natural England as a group for a license to participate. Applications will be assessed against strict criteria before a decision is taken on whether to issue a license.

Participants must take reasonable measures to mitigate the risk of badgers with TB relocating or spreading bovine TB to areas surrounding the culled area. These could include natural barriers that help stop the movement of badgers — like coastline, rivers and major roads — or vaccination of badgers in the surrounding areas before the pilots begin.

Professor Christopher Wathes, professor of Animal Welfare at the Royal Veterinary College and the current chair of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, will oversee monitoring and evaluating the pilot areas. He acknowledged that badger culling is a very sensitive issue and that the group will be completely independent in their work.

“I will be joined by a selection of experts from a range of disciplines and our job will be to carefully consider the design and conduct of the pilots to enable a thorough examination of the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of the culling method being used,” he said.