In Brief

What is the badger cull and why is it controversial?

TB rates in one of UK's main badger cull areas soared by 130% last year

Up to 50,000 badgers could be slaughtered this year if a planned expansion of the national culling scheme goes ahead, opponents of the policy claim.

The increase will be caused by a “predicted expansion in licensed culling zones” – areas where farmers can legally exterminate badgers, The Guardian says.

Controversy over the cull policy has reignited after The Independent revealed that bovine tuberculosis rates in one of England’s main badger cull areas soared by 130% last year - higher than when culls began.

A group of experts, including vets, said the increase showed a “disastrous failure” of the policy of shooting badgers dead in an effort to tackle the disease in cattle.

The culls began in 2012 following pressure from the dairy lobby, which says the livelihoods of cattle farmers are threatened by the spread of TB.

The disease costs taxpayers more than £100m a year, with more than 33,000 cattle slaughtered in England to control the disease in 2017 alone.

The animal rights group Viva blames modern dairy farming for the spread of TB, arguing that it is “so intense that cow’s cannot cope,” leaving their immune systems “in tatters”.

However, the National Farmers Union told the Farmers' Guardian: “Farmers do not carry out culling lightly. It is a vital part of the government’s strategy to control this devastating disease and farmers will want reassurances from government that decisions are robust and are taken based on science and evidence, not for political reasons.”

Last year, the then farming minister George Eustice claimed that “the government’s strategy for dealing with this slow-moving, insidious disease is delivering results”.

But leading vets and animal rights campaigners have since accused the Government of telling “barefaced lies” about the success of its controversial badger culls in England.

A former government adviser told the BBC that up to 9,000 badgers are likely to have suffered “immense pain” in culls to control cattle TB.

Prof Ranald Munro, a former chair of an independent expert group appointed by the government, has written to Natural England to say that the policy is causing “huge suffering”.

The farming lobby worries that the tide is about to turn against them on the issue after The Guardian said that Boris Johnson’s government might be “more ambivalent than its predecessor” about culling.

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, claimed Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, and the prime minister’s partner, Carrie Symonds, both oppose the cull and have influenced Johnson’s thinking.

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