Labour pledges to end badger cull

The government’s annual badger cull is nearing an end, at least for 2023. For almost two months, cull contractors have been out in force, luring England’s badgers into fields with peanuts and then shooting them dead. Meanwhile, Labour has announced that it will end the cull for good if elected.

At the start of the 2023 culling season, Defra published figures for the minimum and maximum number of badgers it wanted killed in England. It demanded that between 14,585 and 53,324 badgers were to be murdered this year.

The Guardian reported exclusively on Labour’s vow. Daniel Zeichner, the shadow farming minister, said:

“I’ve spent a long time looking at this. The 2018 Godfrey review, the last piece of work done by the government, found that badger culling is not the answer. We’re going to make England bovine TB free by 2038, but with a range of measures that do not include culling.”

He continued:

“I think we should be moving to a different approach, because we’ve been culling for quite a long time, and it’s still a big issue and we’re still spending £80m a year on compensation, so it’s not exactly working is it?”

Government bloodlust

The news was welcomed by animal welfare activists. The policy would be in contrast to the murderous Tories, who are on course to annihilate the majority of England’s badger population.

Although the Tories stopped handing out new four-year intensive culling licences last year, 28 ‘cull zones’ of England remained in the intensive part of the cull in 2023. On top of this, when intensive culling finishes in an area, a zone can then move onto supplementary culling. Supplementary culling licences are valid for up to five years, and this year there are 29 zones in the supplementary phase of the cull.

And if that wasn’t enough, the government has been talking about introducing epidemiological culling; that is, the policy of murdering 100% of badgers in one localised area. This is different to the intensive cull that has been taking place over the past decade, where contractors in different cull zones are licensed to murder 70% of badger populations, rather than 100%.

It’s currently unclear whether government policy will change on this, but if it does, it will be even more devastating. Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey said in July:

“I’ve been very clear in England. I’m not going to be held by some artificial deadline that has already been put in place. We will keep culling for as long as it is the best way to do that.”

She continued:

“I’m not just stopping culling because a predecessor gave an artificial deadline. So, I’ll be driven by the evidence and the science.”

The Guardian and the Tories are guided by bad science

The Guardian was mistaken in its reporting when it unquestioningly stated:

“Badgers are being culled to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) because it spreads to cattle and can eliminate entire herds, causing severe problems for farmers.”

And Coffey was lying when she said she was being driven by evidence and science. As Protect the Wild has previously reported, numerous studies have concluded that badger culling is completely ineffective in combating bTB in cows. The Tory government states that it takes its “evidence” and “science” from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), a study that took place between 1997 and 2005. Experts have exposed the trial as unsafe science, with a number of crucial flaws to it.

There are a number of reasons why cows are contracting bTB in England, and they are to do with farming methods and cow movement. Researchers and veterinarians of a 2023 report, A bovine tuberculosis policy conundrum in 2023, concluded:

“The assumption that badgers transmit bTB to new cattle herds once cattle bring bTB into an area is not supported by recent research. Most studies conclude or imply that cattle movements are the main or sole driver of distribution and spread of bovine tuberculosis into new areas.”

The authors also state:

“Until effective test, trace and lockdowns are enforced upon cattle, the bTB epidemic cannot be resolved and will continue to be a massive burden to all…”

And so it is welcome news that Labour is paying some attention. The party has noticed that culling isn’t working, and that another approach would be to vaccinate badgers. But if it is really serious about combating the disease for good, it needs to pledge that it will enforce biosecurity measures on cow farming and movements.