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Badger cull 'to wipe out bovine TB'
Controversial badger culls could result in a disease affecting cattle being wiped out in England in 25 years, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has claimed.
Shooting of the animals has begun in an effort to combat the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) and Mr Paterson said if the results of pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset were positive, then controlled killing of badgers could be allowed throughout England.
Mr Paterson said: "The intention is to roll out this policy in other areas next year subject to these two culls proving effective, efficient and humane. My target is that the UK should be TB free in 25 years."
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We want to have healthy cattle living alongside healthy wildlife."
Confirmation that shooting had begun came in a letter from National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall, although no details were given of where the operation had taken place.
Mr Kendall said the cull was "an important step not just for cattle farmers but for the whole farming industry". He wrote: "We cannot go on culling tens of thousands of cattle every year because of TB while knowing the disease exists in wildlife uncontrolled. It is why the NFU will be working with the pilot companies to ensure the successful delivery of these pilot culls over the coming weeks."
Mr Kendall told NFU members: "I know that many of you reading this will have suffered the misery of dealing with TB on farm - some of you for decades - and I hope now you will feel that something is finally being done to stem the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers. Badger control remains a controversial subject and we understand that some people will never agree with controlling badgers in this way. I am confident, however, that through the combined efforts of farmers, the NFU and government over the last year to illustrate the impact TB has on farms, and the scientific basis for badger control, more people than ever recognise the need to address the disease in badgers."
Around 5,000 badgers are expected to be culled over the next six weeks in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, where two pilot schemes are taking place to stop the spread of bovine TB.
There is widespread opposition to the cull. Campaigners turned out in large numbers at the two pilot sites on Monday night to protest against what they have called an "inhumane" measure.
But Mr Kendall said that he hoped people would come to understand that the culls are "absolutely necessary". He said: "It is also useful to remember our own survey this summer, which showed that two-thirds of the public either support or have no opinion on these badger culls. I hope that when time shows that these culls have reduced TB in cattle - just as has happened in Ireland - that even more people will understand that, while sad, these culls are absolutely necessary. I hope that you will continue to show support for those farmers who are facing the nightmare of TB on farm and especially for those who are in the culling areas. You can rest assured that the NFU is working hard to support its members and the companies concerned with the culls."