Badger cull postponed, government blames Olympics
Environment Secretary insists there has been no U-turn and says cull will go ahead next year
THE Government has blamed the Olympics after it was forced to postpone the controversial badger cull until next year. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told MPs that the cull should have been started earlier this year, but legal challenges, police shortages due to the Olympics and Paralympics, and wet weather had combined to delay it.
Paterson said he had received a letter from the National Farmers’ Union requesting that the cull be delayed. "It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70 per cent of the population," he said. The conditions of the cull licences state that 70 per cent of badgers in the pilot areas must be killed. A failure to shoot enough animals risks making the spread of bovine tuberculosis worse.
The cull will go ahead next summer, said Paterson. He denied accusations of a U-turn, insisting: "This policy is absolutely intact."
The go-ahead for the cull was given by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) nearly a year ago. Farmers believe the cull is essential to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis which is leading to the slaughter of many of their cattle. But opponents claim that a cull will make matters worse because fleeing badgers spread the disease more widely.
NFU president, Peter Kendall, told The Guardian: "For those that have suggested that this cull is irresponsible, I think today's decision shows that this is simply not the case.
“Postponement is the most responsible thing to do. We have said all along that this has never been about killing badgers; this has always been about eradicating disease."
The decision to delay the cull has been welcomed by animal rights and welfare activists, as well as leading scientists, who have opposed the plans.
A U-turn had been expected since Friday, when it emerged that there were twice as many badgers as originally thought, meaning costs were likely to double for farmers who have to pay a 'bounty' for each animal shot.
MPs were due to debate the cull in the House of Commons on Thursday, following an e-petition, started by Queen musician Brian May, which attracted more than 160,000 signatures.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, tweeted this morning that the badger cull collapse was "the latest example of Government incompetence two days before crucial Commons debate".
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: "We welcome this postponement. This must not be a temporary reprieve, but must mark an end to all cull plans.
"Science, the public and MPs from all parties had said very clearly that a cull is no answer to bovine TB."
Many badger lovers speculated that the delay is a precursor to a quiet cancellation of the plans at a later date.
On claims by the government that the cull postponement is not a “U-turn”, Isabel Hardman in The Spectator said: "This is accurate. The vehicle hasn't turned around in the road, it has run out of fuel and ground to a juddering halt.”