Research reveals public backing for cull of TB badgers

UK - A clear majority of the British public would support a legal cull of infected badgers if the Government judged it necessary to bring bovine tuberculosis under control.
calendar icon 1 February 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

That is the central finding of opinion research commissioned by the NFU and unveiled at a meeting of livestock industry stakeholders, called to discuss the TB crisis in London today (Wednesday)

The research was conducted last autumn by independent consultants England Marketing, among four focus groups drawn from members of the public with no connection either with farming or with wildlife conservation groups in Carmarthen, Bristol, Preston and Cannock.

It found that 74 per cent of those with whom the issue was discussed would support a legal cull of infected badgers, with 26 per cent against.

Around two thirds of those interviewed were aware cattle can contract TB, and 58 per cent of them knew the disease can be spread to cattle by badgers.

The focus groups were asked by the researchers whether it would make any difference to the likelihood of their buying British food if farmers were themselves involved in culling badgers, as part of a Government-led strategy. Some 5 per cent said it would make it more likely, 11 per cent less likely, but for the vast majority - 84 per cent - it would make no difference.

The focus groups also revealed a very positive perception of the importance of farming, and of livestock farming in particular, to the countryside and the economy. There were no marked differences in view between the more urban focus groups and the more rural ones.

Commenting on the research results, NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said that they showed that neither the Government nor farmers need fear a public backlash, if a targeted cull of diseased badgers was introduced to help bring TB under control.

“Nobody wants to have to cull badgers, any more than they want to have to slaughter infected cattle. What this research shows is if a cull is what is necessary to contain and eradicate TB, then a clear majority of people are prepared to accept it.”

Mr Raymond emphasised that the researchers had been given strict instructions to come up with a genuine snapshot of public opinion.

“It would be the height of stupidity for the NFU and other farming organisations to come out strongly in favour of a badger cull if we even suspected that this might be damaging the good name of our industry and of our food with our customers,” he said. “We had no interest in anything other than entirely genuine results.”

However, Mr Raymond said the research had also shown the public would be much easier in their minds about a badger cull if either the Government or vets were taking the lead in the exercise, rather than farmers, and there was absolutely no support for the indiscriminate, inhumane killing of badgers.

“This again endorses what we have been saying to Government, which is that farmers are prepared to become involved in a legal cull, but it must be the Government that takes the lead.

“If you put these views together with a TB situation that once again is increasing in severity there is only one possible conclusion: that Defra can and must act to deal with the reservoir of disease in wildlife without any further delay.”

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