A badger cull using controlled shootings to protect British cows from tuberculosis is underway
in two counties in England after animal rights activists lost their appeal to stop the killings.
Approximately 5,000 badgers are expected to be killed over the next six weeks through controlled shootings across the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Badgers, the short-legged, burrowing omnivores that are closely related to weasels and wolverines, have been blamed for the spread of TB among the nation's cow population.
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The decision to resort to the lethal elimination of the badger in certain areas of England was confirmed by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) earlier this week.
"This is an important step not just for cattle farmers but for the whole farming industry," NFU President Peter Kendall said to members in a letter, the BBC reported
"I know that many of you reading this will have suffered the misery of dealing with TB on farm - some of you for decades," Kendall added in his letter. "I hope now you will feel that something is finally being done to stem the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers."
The action has been opposed by animal rights activists, who have held protest vigil and plan to carry out walk protests to disrupt the measure which they described as "utterly unacceptable."
According to an activist named Lynn, who refused to give her full name to the BBC, the cull was "completely unscientific," considering that infected badgers would most likely migrate to cull-free zones to avoid being shot and killed, thereby defeating the hunt's purpose.
Britain's Labour Party politician Mary Creagh agreed, saying the cull was not the answer.
"The government's own figures show it will cost more than it saves and it will spread bovine TB in the short term as the badgers are disturbed and spread infection to neighboring herds," Creagh told the BBC. "We agree with the scientists that it has no meaningful contribution to play in tackling bovine TB."
In defense of the action, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson argued the infection had to be addressed in both badgers and cattle, the BBC noted.
"We have to use every tool in the box because TB is so difficult to eradicate and it is spreading rapidly," Paterson said. "If we had a workable vaccine we would use it. . . [but] a vaccine is at least 10 years off."
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Paterson also denied the suggestion by some opposed to the measure that the government was instituting the cull to appease the farming community, pointing out that Ireland, which instituted a similar cull in the 1980s, saw a "significant reduction" in the disease.
According to the United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
, as of Aug. 14, the number of new herd incidents of TB between January and May of this year was 2,246 compared with 2,397 for the same time period the year prior.
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