We are being told by the media that Britain has sunk into a pit of debt which is five times deeper than previously feared, with the country now owing the equivalent of £200,000 per household!
Instead of the £1 trillion reading normally presented as the nation's debt, the UK is in the red by closer to £5 trillion, figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal.
The oft-quoted £903bn figure for public sector net debt is a borrowing sum calculated by the ONS according to international standards. But a broader set of ONS figures taking in Government liabilities show unfunded public service pension obligations could add another £1.2 trillion and liabilities in unfunded state pension schemes a further £1.35 trillion.
In reality it does seem that bovine TB is not really the threat to human health some claim so why are we spending so much money on compensation, research, fighting legal cases, killing cattle ...
14 Nov 2014, 5:23 PM
Badgers Take Centre Stage for the Next General Election.
From arrogance to silence - how much difference a year can make when it comes to killing badgers.
A year ago the former Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson was in a very bullish mood concerning the badger cull policy. The first year of the pilot culls had been completed in Gloucestershire & Somerset and he was telling MPs that they had been a great success and he was preparing for a national roll out of the policy.
Twelve months on, Owen Paterson has gone, the victim of his own arrogance, to be replaced by the younger and less experienced Liz Truss.
Rather than bold statements concerning the success and importance of badger culling, Liz seems to have completely lost her voice on this highly contentious issue.
Read the letter to the Prime Minister on bTB and the Badger Cull from a group of 26 eminent scientists and vets. They are urging the government to abandon badger culling and instead focus on cattle-based measures to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle....
Huw’s Speech to Stroud Labour and GABs 15th September 2014
Where the Coalition are failing, Labour will Tackle Bovine Tb
Thank you very much for inviting me here this afternoon, it’s good to see you all including our fantastic PPC for Stroud, David Drew. Last week David Cameron’s failed badger-culls started for the second year.
The coalition government is blundering ahead with two culls this year, as a precursor to 40 widespread culls in the years that lie ahead. The choice is now clear: The next General Election will determine whether widespread mass-culling of badgers takes place across the countryside for many years to come: culls based on two chaotic pilots last year which were a catastrophic, unscientific and costly failure. Labour will do things differently, and more effectively, working with farmers and wildlife groups and others to turn around and eradicate Bovine Tb. There is a viable alternative way, but we need farmers and their unions and associations to engage fully and sign up to a long-term programme. It will not be easy, nor quick, but we will defeat Tb without mass-culling if there is a will to do so in the farming and wider community.
When Owen Paterson was dismissed from his post as Secretary of State, there was a glimmer of a hope that his replacement might bring a new line of thinking to the problem of bovine Tb and the controversial badger culls. Or at the very least that the new Defra boss Lizz Truss, having no detailed knowledge of the matter but having witnessed from afar the car-crash which was the pilot badger culls last year, would pause to examine the pros and cons before racing headlong into disaster again. The Secretary of State could make her own mind up.
But no. Any hope was forlorn. Within 48 hours of her appointment, Liz Truss stood at the despatch box in parliament and announced “We are progressing with our programme [of culls]” and trotting out the line “We must use every tool in our toolbox”. “Every tool” is now the Tory/LibDem euphemism for “badger cull”. It could have been Owen Paterson all over again.
Scientists and many others critical of the failed badger culls were astonished, and truly disappointed. Had the new Secretary of State managed to review the evidence on such a controversial and scientifically-contested policy in such a short space of time? Or had she just followed the script, swallowed the hype, and slotted in flexibly where her predecessor had left off. Or even worse, had she been told by David Cameron to just get on with it?
Here was a golden opportunity for the new Defra Secretary to make her mark, and show that she would revert to evidence-based policy, instead of selecting the evidence to match the failing policy. When challenged further in parliament by Shadow Secretary of State Maria Eagle to at least extend the role of the Independent Expert Panel to oversee this summer’s continuation of the culls, she declined. What could she be afraid of from independent oversight?
This year’s culls will be every bit as catastrophic for farmers, taxpayers and wildlife as last year’s pilots. The lack of independent oversight is just the latest shameful indictment of this government’s lackadaisical approach to science and monitoring. It is also compounds the reasons why these extended culls have zero scientific credibility, and why Labour cannot support them, and will not continue them in government. Liz Truss missed a golden opportunity to rethink Bovine Tb. She has led the government back into the same disastrous cull-de-sac as Owen Paterson.
One final point on the latest Secretary of State (the third of this government so far). She recently repeated the blatant lie that Labour did nothing on Bovine Tb for thirteen years. We spent 10 years and £50m scientifically testing the case for culls, and the conclusion was that culls could make no meaningful contribution to eradicating Tb. The Tories must have been asleep for that ten years. But let’s not forget what happened just last year, and be clear that it was the policy-failure of ministers - not farmers - that the pilot culls proceeded and were such a catastrophic failure.
Defra’s own guidelines on the culls were that they had to be carried out in a short period of six weeks and eliminate 70% of the badger population in any cull area to be effective. Yet both culls in Gloucester and Somerset missed the deadlines and – against the clear guidelines issued by Defra themselves – were extended by up to a total of 13 weeks. Despite this astonishing extension the cull targets were missed again, with only 65% culled in Somerset and less than 40% in Gloucestershire. Failed. Extended. Failed again. Do bear in mind that the culls were designed to test the effectiveness of free-shooting of badgers, not least because this was regarded by the government as a more cost-effective way of culling. Yet it was realised within days of the initial pilots that this method was failing badly, and the more expensive method of cage-trap and shoot was urgently resorted to in order to boost the cull numbers. So the very method which the pilots were set up to test – the free-shooting of badgers – was in effect abandoned. It does not work. The government have given up on testing it. So it is no surprise that we learned that bulk orders of cages had been made in advance of the latest culls by the government this year. But of course the cage-trap-shoot approach is very expensive. In fact, when all costs (including significant policing costs) are factored in most observers believe the cost per badger is well in excess of viable alternative Tb control methods, such as badger vaccination. For some reason the government still remains shy about the total costs, but some estimates have put the cost per badger culled at £4300.
So, the pilots failed badly on their own measures of effectiveness. The government’s own Independent Expert Panel (IEP) told us that in their scathing report on the trial. The same report by the same Independent Experts told us that the trials had also failed on humaneness: too many badgers were dying lingering deaths; not enough clean shots. When Defra’s own Independent Expert Panel tells the government that they’ve failed on two out of their own three measures (the third was safety - no one was hurt during the free-shoot pilots) is it then any wonder that the expert panel are not invited to continue their monitoring of the trials this year?
As an aside, on the safety issue (the one measure which the culls did not fail on) there is currently an investigation into allegations of cull marksmen with loaded guns pursuing badgers outside the licensed cull area across a golf course. Surely the third measure – safety – is not about to be retrospectively failed too?
The Chair of Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee, Professor David McDonald, has called the cull an “epic failure”.
There is now a long and growing list of eminent scientists speaking out against the culls, on the evidence that not only are they failing, but they could indeed worsen the spread of Tb in badgers and heighten the risk of spread to cattle. For these eminent scientists, leading experts in fields such as badger ecology and the epidemiology of Tb, observing this government’s approach to policy is to see the world turned upside down. Can we at least learn anything from the culls last year about the prevalence of Tb in the culled badger population? Not really. Of the nearly 2000 badgers eventually killed only 4 were tested for Tb, and only one had the disease. We learnt nothing. Rigorous scientific evaluation and evidence-gathering has been stamped out by this government in these culls. Shameful.
But Labour has said consistently that TB in cattle will need to be tackled by both cattle measures and also by addressing the disease where appropriate in wildlife. It is simply that there is another way. A way that does not need widespread and fairly indiscriminate culling, that has broad scientific support, and which is gaining an evidence-base for its effectiveness.
In Wales a different approach is being taken, based on cattle measures (including strict movement controls, bio-security and annual cattle-testing) combined with vaccination of badgers. Even though it is too early to say that the vaccinations are yet effective, the cattle measures alone already appear to be assisting a reduction in incidence of Bovine Tb. We should be cautious, but it is encouraging.
We need a way forward that truly offers the promise of reversing the upward trend in Bovine Tb and eradicating this disease, which works with the science instead of against it, which does not squander taxpayer money, and which does not alienate the public from farmers. The work in Wales – which has stringent scientific monitoring – builds upon the existing long-term trials (often volunteer-led) by organisations like the Wildlife Trusts and willing farmers around the country. There is a groundswell of goodwill behind this approach, as well as a growing body of evidence and scientific opinion.
A policy of more rigorous cattle surveillance, control & bio-security measures combined with vaccination of badgers should be the mainstay of a long-term Tb eradication policy. At the same time, other viable approaches such as the development of effective cattle-vaccination and testing and the removal of scientific and political hurdles to that end need to be pursued.
There is no doubt that Bovine Tb is a scourge of farming, and that beyond the impact on cattle the effect on some farmers can be devastating. To speak to farmers who have seen much-loved pedigree herds infected with Tb, or smaller-scale dairy-farmers where the disease can prove to be the tipping-point commercially, leaves no doubt that we need to eradicate Bovine Tb.
Policy-makers must listen to farmers – and farmers do not hold one view on this – but then base the way forward on evidence not intuition, and on the probability of success, not on political expediency. That means taking a different approach to BTb, and doing it urgently.
That alternative way is there, should we choose to take it. Labour will continue to advocate this better way forward, and will put it into place if elected. We will work with farmers and wildlife trusts and others to do so, and we will work with the evidence.
There is a better way. Better for farmers, for taxpayers, for wildlife. It will not happen under this government. It will under Labour.
1 Sep 2014, 1:02 PM
The Annual Report GB Cattle Health & Welfare Group 2012 shows which diseases most concern farmers and - surprise, surprise - it is not bovine TB - so we are being misled by this government ...?
Top Ten - with no mention of bovine TB (source: various industry bodies)
Fertility Mastitis Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheltis Bovine Viral Diarrhea Johne's Disease (another Microbacteria and can cuase adverse reaction with bTB skin test) Liver Fluke Nutrition Calf Pneumonia Calf Scour Parasitic Gastroenteritis/Lungworm
Thank you for contacting me about the Government’s policy of supporting the culling of badgers to address the issue of bovine TB. I am sorry for the delay in replying.
There is cross-party agreement on the need to eradicate bovine TB, not least because this disease led to 24,618 cattle being compulsorily slaughtered in Great Britain between January and September alone last year. However, the Labour Party does not agree with the Government that the solution to this issue is simply the mass culling of badgers. The evidence does not support the Government’s policy and it is clear that Ministers have repeatedly chosen to ignore the independent scientific advice they have received.
As Labour repeatedly warned would be the case, the trial badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset failed. Prior to the start of the trials, the Government stated that “it would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70 per cent of the populations” and “the killing/taking of badgers must be limited to a six-week cull period specified in each licence.” However, as it became clear that the trials were not succeeding, Ministers wrongly backed extensions beyond the six-week limit and revised downwards the target reduction in the badger population within each trial area. Therefore, contrary to Owen Paterson’s ridiculous claim that “the badgers moved the goalposts” it was in fact the former Secretary of State who repeatedly did so. Even after the culls were extended, the badger population in the Gloucestershire trial was only reduced by an estimated 65 per cent, while the trial in Somerset achieved a population reduction of just 39 per cent at the time it was abandoned. The Government has also been forced to admit that only 24 per cent of the badgers killed were by controlled shooting, which was precisely the method that the pilots were supposed to be testing. It is estimated that these failed culls may have cost as much as £7 million to date, equivalent to more than £4,000 per badger killed. Most worryingly, leading independent scientists have warned that the decision to extend the cull and the failure to cull 70 per cent of the badger population may have increased the spread of bovine TB as a result of perturbation.
In April the Independent Expert Panel reported that the trial culls had failed the test for ‘humaneness’, as well as ‘effectiveness’. This was despite Defra restricting the scope of the report to only cover “the initial cull period, not the extensions”. Yet the Government’s reaction to this damning verdict of their policy has been to continue with the Gloucestershire and Somerset culls regardless. The Government have also announced they will not allow independent expert scrutiny for the remainder of the Gloucestershire and Somerset culls. It is shocking that Ministers are more interested in putting personal prejudice at the heart of their policy-making than following scientific evidence.
Since the end of the trials, Ministers have also revealed that there has been over-reporting of the incidence of TB in herds under restriction and the incidence rate of bovine TB since September 2011. The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories has stated that this is likely to result in the “significant downwards revision” of the data. This is an appalling development considering the fact that these statistics have been a crucial part of the Government’s case for proceeding with the culling of badgers. Even before this revelation, it is clear that the Government has repeatedly over-played the extent to which badgers are responsible for spreading TB across England. Recent research by Prof. Christl Donnelly showed that herd-to-herd transmission of bovine TB in cattle accounts for 94 per cent of cases, while around 6 per cent of infected cattle catch TB directly from badgers. This research backs up the evidence from the Randomised Badger Cull Trial funded by Labour when in government which identified cattle transmission as playing a significant role in the spread of Bovine TB.
Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to abandon their failed policy. I am clear that to press ahead with further culls is not only unscientific, but irresponsible and reckless. On 13th March MPs were given a chance to debate the culls in parliament, and voted 219-1 against the Government’s policy. I have said that the Secretary of State should listen to the House rather than continuing this failed cull. However, as Elizabeth Truss has committed to continuing with these culls, the least she should be doing is allowing independent expert oversight. The Independent Expert Panel should be allowed to provide a full, accurate and independent assessment of the trials and advise on the way forward. Finally, the Government should also reveal all the details of the cost to the taxpayer of this disastrous policy, including the costs of extending the trials.
As I have said, we do need a serious strategy to eradicate bovine TB, but it has got to be based on the science. It is time to restore evidence-based policy making to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I intend to do so if Labour wins the next election. All the evidence and expert advice that I have seen suggests that the most effective strategy will need to focus on badger vaccination and enhanced measures to address herd to herd transmission, including compulsory post-movement testing, a comprehensive risk-based trading system, and more robust bio-security on farms. If elected, Labour will work with farmers, wildlife groups and leading scientists to develop this alternative strategy to eradicate bovine TB, including tackling TB in badgers.
Maria Eagle MP | Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
House of Commons London SW1A 0AA
27 Aug 2014, 9:36 AM
So clearly the government is set to ignore the independent experts' review of last year's culling and intend to proceed again this year - encouraging more protests, wasting more tax payers' money ...
Brief comments from the Rethink bTB reporter at Badger Trust's judicial review yesterday.
'Judge retires to decide if Defra can break promise on IEP In the High Court today Thursday 21 August Badger Trust challenged Defra’s plan to resume badger culling in the pilot areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire without any independent oversight or assessment - despite Defra promising (since 2011) that any future decision to roll out culling nationally with free shooting would be based on the IEP assessing this to be effective, humane and safe. After the IEP pronounced the 2013 pilot culls to be ineffective and inhumane, and of doubtful safety, Defra decided scrap the IEP for 2014 and make only its own internal assessment as a basis for deciding to roll out culling to 40 new areas nationally.
Judge Kenneth Parker heard arguments on both sides, and retired to consider his decision. If he decides that Badger Trust is right, this will not stop the culls from happening this year (unless Defra & the new minister have a sudden attack of conscience and science). But it will probably delay the start date while Defra puts an IEP in place. And if the same IEP members are used, it will ensure there is strict scrutiny of the results. If the judge decides that the Defra minister can break the promise of independent scrutiny, that would mean after the 2013 culls proved to inhumane and ineffective there was somehow no further need for independent scrutiny in 2014. Which is mad.
Defra’s barrister even argued that though the Defra minister promised independent expert assessment as the basis of any national rollout decision, she did not promise not to break this promise later (so, don’t trust anything Defra says, if you ever did). Why could the culling not be stopped completely? The law is loaded against Badger Trust and other civil society groups, because judges presume that government ministers are acting in the public interest. Proving that they are not is difficult. Where it is a matter of judgement or opinion, ministers have a lot of leeway. Defra ministers (Caroline Spelman, Owen Paterson and now Liz Truss) had the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, that culling badgers would help control TB in cattle, and that was enough.
A scientific figleaf for a political decision. Never mind that much more expert and experienced scientists have provided evidence that culling doesn’t work and can even make matters worse. Defra was on also in cahoots with the NFU, despite NFU representing only a minority of farmers.'
22 Jul 2014, 8:07 AM
Badger Trust calls for urgent meeting with new Defra Secretary ahead of High Court challenge over Badger cull
The Badger Trust is seeking an urgent meeting with the new DEFRA Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss ahead of its Judicial Review challenge on the badger cull, which will take place in the High Court on Thursday 21 August.
The Badger Trust is challenging the new DEFRA Secretary of State and Natural England over their failure to put in place an Independent Expert Panel for the planned culling of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2014. The Trust contends such a panel is needed to oversee the design of data collection, its analysis and interpretation. Without this, there can be no proper assessment of the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the culling operation, something that would be needed before any lawful decision to continue with further culls around the country.
Commenting on the Judicial Review hearing date and the request for an urgent meeting with Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild, said
“I congratulate Liz Truss on her appointment but call on her not to make the mistakes of her predecessor by attempting to push ahead with further badger culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset this summer, without any independent assessment of safety, effectiveness and humaneness.
“Rather than shut the door on any discussion of this issue ahead of the Judicial Review challenge in the High Court on the 21 August, we would like to arrange for key representatives of the Badger Trust to meet with the new DEFRA Secretary of State as soon as possible.
“We would like to use this meeting to look at the key findings of the 2013 IEP report and how its recommendations will be implemented and to reach an agreement on a new independent monitoring panel for any culling operation in 2014, which could avoid the need for the High Court challenge on 21 August.
“I hope that Elizabeth Truss will accept our meeting request and show the public that she is taking a very different approach from Owen Paterson on this highly controversial issue, by entering into dialogue with the Badger Trust, as well as the National Farmers’ Union, on bovine TB control and the badger cull policy, within weeks of taking up her new Cabinet post.
“We have made it clear that whilst we believe that any culling undertaken this year should be independently monitored, our position remains that the culling of badgers will not have a significant impact on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. This is a completely separate discussion.”
MPs were recently informed by Professor Tim Coulson a member of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), that the former DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson was very unhappy with the IEP report into the 2013 culls which was highly critical of their failure to meet reasonable standards of humaneness and effectiveness. Mr Paterson did not take the opportunity to meet the panel to discuss their findings.
Remarking on the meeting request Professor Tim Coulson said
“I think it was a major mistake by Owen Paterson not to meet with the IEP following the publication of our report into the 2013 pilot culls. The failure of DEFRA to continue independent oversight of data collection and analysis of the ongoing badger cull enormously compromises their ability to assess whether it achieves its critical aims.
“I fully support the Badger Trust’s call for an urgent meeting with the new DEFRA Secretary of State on this key issue ahead of the Judicial Review challenge on 21 August.”
22 Jul 2014, 7:55 AM
Interesting comment in Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mark-jones/owen-paterson-liz-truss_b_5598348.html ... 'Whilst the badgers were accused of moving the goalposts last year, the Prime Minister has shown Defra's Owen Paterson a red card and moved him right off the pitch'.
17 Jul 2014, 12:25 PM
Owen Paterson's departure from Government could see the end of the hated badger culls and a wider return to environmental sanity, writes Lesley Docksey inthe Ecologist (www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2478263/owen_paterson_sacked_the_end_of_badger_bashing.html). Given his disbelief in climate change and his arrogant disregard of science, it's not a moment too soon! (not to mention his support of big business, lack of action re bee crisis, culling of other wildlife ....
All those working to protect our precious (and valuable) environment, and particularly those who are fighting to stop the disastrous badger culling, were greatly cheered to hear that finally we can wave goodbye to Owen Paterson, labelled "badger basher" and the "worst Environment Secretary ever". Despite the National Farmers Union, the Countryside Alliance and other friends lobbying David Cameron to keep him in place, he's gone. According to the Daily Mirror he was understood to have "paid the price for the botched badger cull and the Government's cack-handed response to this winter's floods".
Allies claimed he was popular with farmers, but then why did an online poll conducted by Farmers Weekly say that 83% of respondents wanted to see Paterson removed? And they suggested that his removal would put the future of the badger culls in doubt.
One should remember that the NFU has a very loud voice but only represents 18% of farmers. Farmers have not been well served by Paterson's relentless pursuit of badger culling whilst ignoring not just the science which says that killing badgers will make little difference to cutting bovine TB in cattle, but the successful and ongoing reduction of bovine TB in Wales through proper controls.
Farmers have seen opinions on culling divide their communities and damage their reputations. They do, quite desperately, need support in tackling TB in their herds, but that support needs to be centred upon better vaccination and testing, better bio-security and better controls on cattle movements. Far better to put resources into this than waste it on needlessly killing badgers.
29 May 2014, 10:13 AM
What do robins, badgers and buzzards have in common? They're all on the Tories' kill list says the Guardian (www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/26/robins-badgers-buzzards-tory-kill-list). The article says 'Britain's wildlife is trapped between traditional Tories and their neoliberal counterparts, who think any green regulation a burden. obins. Starlings. Pied wagtails. Badgers. Herring gulls. Buzzards. Cormorants. Grey squirrels. Foxes. The kill list created by the UK government is getting so long it is starting to look like the work of a psychopath. What can be compelling the coalition to be so brutal?'
'The biggest challenge for nature lovers remains all the things that we and our politicians are not doing – our passivity when faced with habitat loss and climate change, which is creating a sixth great wave of extinction. But confronting these profound problems is more difficult when conservationists are forced to perpetually fight off the steps the government is taking to exterminate specific species.'
The 'official' reasons for each 'slaughter' are also given.
2 May 2014, 9:29 AM
'Why the Tory badger cull is inhumane and ineffective' says the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (http://labourlist.org/2014/04/why-the-tory-badger-cull-is-inhumane-and-ineffective/).
Albert Einstein once said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Einstein was a man of science. Sadly, the Tories’ Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is a man who is anti-science.
A man who thought it was a good idea to cull badgers to deal with the problem of TB in cattle. A man who thought it was such a good idea that he started it, was told by an independent expert panel that it wasn’t working and then said he wants to roll it out further anyway.
To be fair, we shouldn’t have high expectations for Mr Paterson’s grasp of science. After all, he thinks climate change is a good thing. And his grasp of maths isn’t too good either. The Parliament voted 220-1 against his cull but still he wants to proceed with it – a cull that experts have said is ineffective and inhumane. A cull that dismally failed to meet its targets. A cull they say will make the problem worse, not better.
Labour understands that Bovine TB is one of the most important issues facing farmers today. It is a scourge and a threat to their livelihoods and those of the communities they serve.
Sadly, the Tories just don’t get it.
On this issue, like so many, Owen Paterson has put prejudice before science, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus and posturing before good policy.
In contrast, Labour’s solution is based on a reasonable, rational and cross-party approach. Working with wildlife groups, farmers and leading scientists we want to take forward an alternative strategy that would focus on badger vaccination and enhanced cattle measures. We have said consistently that the culls are bad for farmers, bad for the taxpayer and bad for our wildlife. And Labour’s concerns are reflected in the views of animal welfare groups and the British Veterinary Association.
We have a genuine interest in eradicating TB in cattle, helping our farmers and protecting our wildlife. Our proposal for an evidence-based, scientific approach is the only way out of the mess the Tories have created.
By Maria Eagle who is Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
11 Apr 2014, 2:08 PM
'Lies, damn lies, and Owen Paterson's badger cull', shouts the headline of The Ecologist today.
Paterson's speech to Parliament on the continuation of the badger cull was not so much a masterpiece of deception, writes Lesley Docksey, as a crude botch-up of errors, wrong statistics and a failure to understand the very real problem of TB in cattle.
An interesting article that is well worth reading.
Something is rotten in the state of England - pending the publication of the long-delayed Independent Panel report on the badger cull, Lesley Docksey finds that the fight for England's badgers is part of an even bigger campaign for scientific and political integrity … A rather damning article, setting out the history of the badger cull trials, failures, cover ups ....
The Badger Trust (Press Release today) is asking probing questions:
BADGER TRUST QUESTIONS DEFRA PAYMENTS TO NFU
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State must explain why Defra has been helping the National Farmers’ Union to train field staff when the Coalition originally assured Parliament  that culling would be farmer-led with the Coalition paying only for supervision by Natural England.
In answer to freedom of information requests from the Badger Trust the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has revealed payments from public funds to the National Farmers’ Union and some of its contractors towards field work in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset. This was to estimate the badger population before killing began as part of the bovine TB (bTB) eradication programme in England.
The then Secretary of State, Mrs Caroline Spelman, told the Commons: that badger control licences would be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to enable groups of farmers and landowners to reduce badger populations at their own expense. Natural England would set out strict criteria to ensure that any culling was carried out safely, effectively and humanely.
The Trust’s questions and Defra’s answers (italics) in summary were :
1. How much was spent by Defra on the badger surveys to ascertain the number of badgers in culling areas in 2012 and 2013 (this involved re-surveys to correct the original wrong ones)? (“We don’t hold the data in a format that allows us to provide costs in that level of detail . . . exempted [when] information is not held when the applicant’s request is received . . . and is material still in the course of completion, unfinished documents or incomplete data” – Defra).
2. The cost to Defra of the employment of outside agencies to ascertain the number of badgers in each of the pilot areas of Gloucester, Somerset and Dorset for 2012 and for 2013? (“Defra and its agencies together with the NFU and some of its contractors undertook field work during 2012 and 2013. The NFU met the bulk of its own costs for this work, but Defra is reimbursing some costs, for example around training field staff. Again these costs are in the process of being finalised” – Defra).
3. When did badger survey work take place in Somerset, prior to the beginning of the pilot badger cull trial? Can you tell me who undertook this work? Can you tell me the cost of this work? Can you tell me who paid for the additional survey work?
(“Field work was carried out by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (formerly FERA) in Somerset and Gloucestershire in August – October 2012 and August – September 2013. Costs for field work carried in 2013 are not yet available. This information is therefore exempted.. . “).
A very interesting and informative article worth reading at: www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2241707/number_10s_badger_cull_escape_plan_paterson_doomed.html
It asks if the Government is seeking an 'escape plan' for a badger cull gone disastrously wrong under Owen Paterson's direction. Lesley Docksey reports on a likely end to the cull - and to Paterson's ministerial role.
House of Commons rumours of the 'escape plan' first surfaced in a Parliamentary Question by Barry Gardiner MP on 9th January when he said in a question to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson:
"The Secretary of State has delivered an unscientific cull that has spectacularly failed, that his own Back Benchers are openly questioning, that has weakened the reputation of DEFRA and Natural England for evidence-based policy, and from which the Prime Minister's office is reported to be working up an escape plan."
Much of what is included in the article is already reported elsewhere on this website but some particularly interesting extracts are reproduced below:
The Ecologist now understands that the Independent Panel's report - whose release appears to have been delayed - will provide all the justification needed to bring the cull to a hasty end....
But the main factor guiding the decision to halt the cull programme is the growing political pressure, as a Parliamentary source told The Ecologist:
"Lots of Tory MPs supported the ban initially because they believed in it, or out of loyalty. But as Paterson follows one bungle with another, equivocates on the actualité and refuses to answer questions, that support is draining away. The MPs really feel that they have been left out to dry!"....
One has only to read the summary of the Randomised Badger Control Trial Report - heavily depended on by Paterson to justify the cull - to see how he has cherry-picked a tiny piece of misunderstood information, while ignoring its carefully considered conclusions.
In its recommendations on disease control and vaccination it said that "badger culling combined with vaccination is likely to reduce any advantage gained by vaccination."
And it remarked that "Farmers need to take 'ownership' of the TB disease problem in their cattle herds, rather than leaving it largely to Government to resolve."
It also said that "that a significant drop in incidence that was apparent in the South West just after the gassing programme had commenced (and was attributed by many to be an effect of that programme) had also occurred nationally, and had coincided with restrictions on cattle imports from Ireland, along with a change in the tuberculin test which would result in fewer false positives." ...
Miserable, emaciated sick animals spewing out disease?
Left to themselves, badgers show little evidence of suffering from bTB. Far from Paterson's vision of "these miserable, emaciated sick animals spewing out disease", most badgers appear to be very healthy - and disease free. According to studies carried out in Northern Ireland:
"... the level of infection in badgers appears to decay naturally in line with the reduction of cattle TB levels. This suggests that M. bovis is not self sustaining in the badger population and that badgers are not a persistent reservoir for bovine TB as the disease prevalence in badgers would appear to decrease naturally with time as the chance of re-infection from cattle decreases." (author's emphasis)
The Welsh vaccination programme showed that, of the 1,193 badgers from 'TB hotspot areas' vaccinated in 2012, none showed signs of bTB. The Durham University study showed that of nearly 400 road-kill badger carcasses autopsied, only one was found to have TB.
Yet none of the badgers killed during the pilot badger culls will have been tested to see if they were infected with TB. Might Paterson have feared that these tests would prove that badgers are only a very minor cause of bTB outbreaks in cattle?
6 Jan 2014, 1:21 PM
By Dominic Dyer, Care for the Wild International
In between taking calls from senior editors of national newspapers asking me if I could confirm reports that Environment Minister Owen Paterson was on a skiing holiday in France, leaving David Cameron to face the anger of flood victims, I spent some of my Christmas break getting to grips with the outcome of the badger cull pilots.
Using a number of key sources including freedom of information requests, answers to parliamentary questions and leaked documents from Defra and Natural England, I put together a picture of a badger cull that went wrong from day one and has proved a complete disaster.
To start with the free shooting of badgers at night by National Farmer Union-employed pest controllers has proved a complete and utter failure.
Despite claims by the Environment Minister that this method would deliver a quick and efficient way of killing badgers, within 10 days of the culls commencing only 90 badgers had been killed in both cull zones by free shooting.
This resulted in panic in Defra and a major deployment of Government-employed traps teams with heat seeking equipment to increase the kill rates.
At the end of the initial six weeks for each of the pilot culls, no more than 25% of the badgers killed were as a result of free shooting.
It also quickly became apparent that four monitors in two cull zones the size of the Isle of Wight was completely inadequate to gauge the humanness of the shooting operations.
As the culls progressed, wounded badgers were picked up outside of the cull zones, badgers were left overnight in cages in freezing muddy damp conditions, cages were not cleaned down between kills and the shooters found they had the wrong type of ammunition, to kill badgers at point blank range in a caged environment.
The aim of the pilot culls was to kill 70% of the badger population in each of the zones, however at the end of the six weeks trial, only 19% of this target had been achieved in Gloucestershire and 20% in Somerset.
Rather than accepting defeat, Mr Paterson played for time and faced public ridicule with the claim “the badgers had moved the goal posts”.
He then announced a shock 66% drop in the estimated badger population, which he blamed on bad weather and disease, although most experts in the field believe the sabotage of hair traps by anti-cull activists and the illegal killing of badgers by farmers and landowners was a more likely factor for the huge decline.
Despite serious concerns from Natural England’s chief scientific advisor and a number of its board members, the decision was taken extend both cull pilots.
However, the NFU contractors and government trap teams could still only reach 65% of their kill targets in Somerset after nine weeks and 39% in Gloucestershire after 11 weeks.
Also by going beyond the six week trial period, it is widely accepting by leading scientists and badger behaviourists that the trials have significantly increased the disruption to badger colonies and the risk of perturbation and TB spread.
Then we come to the staggering costs of the badgers culls which Mr Paterson has done all he can to hide from MPs and the public.
If we take account of policing costs, Government trap teams and equipment, Whitehall staff costs in Defra, Natural England and Food and Environment Research Agency and badger sett monitoring and data collection, it is estimated that the total costs of both cull pilots is around £7.3 million.
If we divide this figure by the total number of badgers killed (1,771) we are looking at a cost per badger of £4,121.
If the culls are to be extended as Mr Paterson plans for a further 3 years we can add a further £12 million to the costs giving a total figure of £19.3 million for four years of badger culling in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire.
This figure is all the more worrying, when you consider based on DEFRA estimates that even if the cull pilots were 100% successful and reduced the increase in the spread of bovine TB by 16% over nine years, this would only deliver a knock on benefit of £2.5 million to the tax payer.
So based on current projections the costs of the badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire outweigh the benefits by over seven times.
Taking this into account, it comes as no surprise to see Owen Paterson become as elusive as Lord Lucan since the end of the badger cull pilots, leaving his inexperienced junior Farming Minister George Eustice to take the heat in the media and Parliament, for what is increasingly seen as a disastrous policy.
Defra officials are now playing down any talk of roll out to 10 more zones in 2014 and the director general of the NFU has recently stated that even a limited extension of the culls into Devon and Cornwall in 2014, would be a bad move.
Pressure is now building for a full debate in Westminster and a further vote on any extension of the badger cull pilots.
Talks of secret reports and efforts to influence the Independent Humanness Panel behind closed doors, has also further weakened Owen Paterson’s position and credibility.
Many Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs are now becoming increasingly concerned about the growing public anger the cull has generated as thousands of protesters take to the streets of cities and towns across the UK from Manchester to Leeds and Brighton and Bristol in what is now called the “Badger Army”, which is one of the fastest growing wildlife protection campaigns in Europe.
At a time when families are seeing the biggest squeeze on incomes in over 40 years with many having to make decisions about heating or eating, this Government has delivered one of the most disastrous and expensive wildlife culls on record.
In 2014 David Cameron should listen to scientific and public opinion and stop the disastrous badger cull policy for good.
The Government must now focus on bringing farmers, landowners and wildlife protection groups together to find a long term solution to reducing bovine TB.
This new approach should be good for both farmers and wildlife and be based on tighter cattle movement controls, improved TB testing and TB vaccination for both badgers and cattle.
- Dominic Dyer is policy advisor with Care for the Wild International.
5 Jan 2014, 12:51 PM
Article in Western Daily Press (http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/TB-cattle-slaughter-rates-nearly-10-cent-2012/story-20315460-detail/story.html?afterReg=Y) confirms latest bTB figures reveal cattle slaughter rates are down by nearly 1-%. slaughter rates down by nearly 10% compared with 2012.
Following pressure from the European Commission, the Government has forced farmers to tighten down on biosecurity controls, cattle movements and TB testing. Has this resulted in the steady decline in the rates of TB in cattle compared to the same period in 2012?
Comparing the latest Defra figures from September 2012 to September 2013, there has been an overall drop of 5.9 per cent in new TB cases and a 9.5 per cent drop in the number of cattle slaughtered for TB.
Is Owen Paterson wasting millions of pounds of tax payers’ money on a badger cull?
20 Dec 2013, 7:26 PM
England's 2013 badger culls collapsed in chaos - a severe blow to Owen Paterson and his Department, Defra. Now Lesley Docksey lifts the lid on the disgraceful fiasco to expose Paterson's fantasy world of 'science' ...
"These pilots are not on our land, but the ways the culls are being carried out is increasingly worrying and we are now concerned for the credibility and usefulness of the exercise. This sense of shifting scientific sands is a real issue for us, particularly if faced with any future proposition for wider culling."
Patrick Begg, National Trust rural enterprise director.
The beach-loads of sand that Defra and Natural England have shifted in pursuit of killing badgers over the last year or two (and in the case of the NFU, for many more years than two) have little to do with science. And the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's bucket and spade are bigger than most.
In the Westminster Hall debate on the pilot badger culls on 10 December MP Chris Williamson called him "gung-ho" in his desire to pursue the cull route. A polite way to describe his statements on the cull would be 'giving a positive spin'.
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
Perhaps 'propaganda' would be more accurate. However you name it, his "science-based" utterances appear to come from an alternative Paterson Universe where facts are simply what you decide them to be.
13 Dec 2013, 6:19 PM
The Government is under pressure to put plans to roll out badger culling to a vote in Parliament amid growing Conservative unease. During a fierce debate yesterday A packed debate in Westminster Hall yesterday (12/12/13) heard how the Government is under pressure following the shambles of the two recent badger culling trials . Interestingly Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who is responsible for the policy, was not present for the debate.
The debate heard a cross-party section of MPs criticise the' 'pilot' culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire that failed as targets were not met. It was clear that an increasing number of Conservatives are adopting the position of Labour and many Liberal Democrat backbenchers in opposing culling.
Anne Main, Conservative MP for St Albans in Hertfordshire, said her position had gone from "neutral to negative". She told MPs: "Bring it back before the House. It's what Members want. The public will not understand concerns from people like myself who have moved from neutral to negative".
Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford in Kent said: "It's a bit of a cheek for the Government to say the pilot culls have been a success yet those of us who are actually anti-cull are being told not to leap to conclusions before the independent panel has concluded."
Earlier in the House of Lords, Lord John Krebs - one of the scientists involved in the Government's key lng-term studies of the link between badgers and bovine TB - said the current policy had turned out to be "even more crazy than I thought it was." He said the open-shooting culling policy was flawed because Defra had not known how many badgers were in the area, and so had no idea what percentage had been killed. He believes increased cattle measures would be more effective than culling to bring bovine TB under control. Tough measures have recently been put in place and they are about to get tougher.
Few can doubt too that the badger cull has been an expensive PR disaster. Surely now Paterson will have to consider the growing strenght of feeling against culling amongst his members and embrace a radical change of direction?
29 Nov 2013, 8:13 PM
Global Meat News has reported that 'Cattle management is reason for bTB reduction', according to a new study.
Falling UK and Northern Irish bovine TB (bTB) rates have been proven to be a result of cattle management rather than culling, according to official statistics.
The new statistics show a larger reduction in bTB in Northern Ireland, where no badgers have been culled, and have probed animal welfare groups to deem the UK environment minister Owen Paterson’s description of successful badger cull as “blarney”.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) released statistics from England which showed that, up until August, there has been an 8.4% reduction in the number of cattle slaughtered due to bTB, compared with the same time last year.
Mike Rendle from the Northern Ireland Badger Group said: “Northern Ireland, like Great Britain, experienced a surge in bovine TB following the foot and mouth epidemic. The South of Ireland was largely unaffected by this, which makes Northern Ireland’s achievement all the more remarkable.
“Mr Paterson has grossly misrepresented the TB situation in Ireland and should instead be using the progress in Northern Ireland as an exemplar for future UK strategy. Northern Ireland is the only region in these islands with an agreed approach to dealing with bovine TB. This science-led strategy benefits from the broad support of industry and environmental sectors with an interest in tackling this disease.”
A West MP has apologised to farmers in his constituency after being accused of bias in favour of the badger cull. Gill and David Purser wrote to Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, suggesting that the NFU and Conservative MPs like him were not representing the views of many farmers who did not support controversial cull of badgers,
David and Gill Purser, farmers in the Cotswolds who are against the badger cull, wrote to their local MP, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, to express concern that farmers who oppose the badger cull were "not being fairly represented".
They did not receive a reply from the Conservative MP, and said they were outraged when he then referred to another farmer in his constituency who supports the badger cull, and highlighted his views as a reason to back it.
Last night Mr Clifton Brown apologised to the Pursers and said that the service they had received was "unacceptable". The Pursers wrote to him in June. He alleged he did reply - in September. However, when they received no response from him they emailed him on October 14th asking for a response . They received no reply to this email either - so draw your own conclusion.
Paul Hodgkinson, the leader of the Lib Dems on Mr Purser's local council, said: "It is very bad form – MPs should reply regardless of their own views. Mr Clifton-Brown should also be aware that Gloucestershire County Council voted in favour of a motion opposing the badger cull and that this is a fair indication of the mood of the wider electorate towards the badger cull in our county."
WHAT MR PATERSON DID NOT SAY ABOUT BOVINE TB - press release from Badger Trust today:
The Defra Secretary of State has told MPs a string of whopping half-truths about his campaign on bovine TB (bTB). David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust said: “Once again Mr Paterson’s serious omissions give the impression that he is thinking it all up as he goes along”. Mr Williams filled in the parts Mr Paterson left out.
1. Mr Paterson said in answer to a Question on November 21st: “I wish we could go back to the bipartisan approach of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when we got this disease beaten – we got it down to 0.01%.” .
He failed to say that this was achieved by rigorous area-by-area cattle movement controls and rigorous annual testing. There was no assault on wildlife of the kind he is now inflicting on badgers .
2. The Secretary of State told an even worse half-truth: “. . . we are following the science from Australia, which is TB-free; we are following the science from New Zealand, which is down from 1,763 infected herds to 66;
He failed to say the UK brought the number of cattle slaughtered down from 25,000 in 1950 to 2,081 in 1970 without any slaughter of wildlife, and the toll remained below that level for 20 years. The low point was 513 in one year. That was a reduction of ninety eight per cent compared with 94 percent in New Zealand, which slaughtered possums.
3. Mr Paterson said the Coalition was following the science from the Republic of Ireland, where reactors were down from 40,000 to 18,500.
He ignored Northern Ireland which also halved the number of cattle lost over an equivalent period of nine years, but did so without killing wildlife. Robust cattle control programmes, the real solution, were imposed in all the countries he mentioned, but were recklessly abandoned in the UK.
4. He praised those who conducted the cull in Somerset, and said they were convinced there had been a significant reduction in the number of diseased badgers.
He failed to explain that shot badgers carcasses were not being tested for bTB and did not explain how anyone knew there had been a significant reduction in diseased badgers.
 The eradication of bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain. W. D. MACRAE, M.R.C.V.S., D.V.S.M. Symp, Zool. Soc., Lond. No. 4, pp. 81-90 (April, 1961).
25 Nov 2013, 6:55 PM
Falling bovine TB (bTB) rates in England and Northern Ireland, achieved by cattle management rather than culling, have exposed Owen Paterson’s description of the Republic of Ireland’s cull policy ‘success’ as blarney, says a wildlife charity.
A Care for Wild spokeman said: "Environment Minister Mr Paterson consistently uses the Republic of Ireland’s cull policy to justify the cull of badgers in England. But statistics continue to show that a more impressive reduction in bTB has taken place in Northern Ireland – without a single badger being killed.
"Last week, new Defra figures showed that in England up until August, there has been an 8.4% reduction in the number of cattle slaughtered due to TB, compared to the same period last year, and a 5.7% reduction in the number of bTB incidents.
"In Ireland, the current rate of bTB (up to September) is 5.4% in Northern Ireland, compared to 3.5% in the Republic. However, since 2002, the rate in Northern Ireland has dropped by 4.5 percentile points, compared to 3% in the Republic – thus not killing badgers has actually been more successful."
Mike Rendle, from the Northern Ireland Badger Group, said: “Northern Ireland, like Great Britain, experienced a surge in bovine TB following the foot and mouth epidemic. The South of Ireland was largely unaffected by this which makes Northern Ireland’s achievement all the more remarkable.
“Mr Paterson has grossly misrepresented the TB situation in Ireland and should instead be using the progress in Northern Ireland as an exemplar for future UK strategy. Northern Ireland is the only region in these islands with an agreed approach to dealing with bovine TB. This science-led strategy benefits from the broad support of industry and environmental sectors with an interest in tackling this disease.”
Dominic Dyer, Policy Advisor for Care for the Wild, said: “To continually hold up the Republic of Ireland as the ultimate achievement of a culling policy is at best blarney, and at worst a complete con. Accurate reading of the statistics show that it is cattle management, not culling that works. Meanwhile, Mr Paterson’s perfect case study has led to the slaughter of nearly 100,000 badgers in Ireland for no proven benefit. It’s shocking.”