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Wildlife Reservoirs, is the badger a costly distraction, a scapegoat ...?

 Added by  Thomas (Guest)
 22 Jul 2010, 6:43 PM

Prof John Bourne, who conducted the infamous ten year, government-funded study which showed that badger killing is a waste of time and money, recalled what he was told by a senior politician:
"Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers."
This strand on the forum deals mainly with the wildlife reservoirs involved in the bovine TB saga. In the UK this is, as we are probably all aware by now, believed to be mainly the badger. No other mammal has been studied in the UK as intensely as the badger so actually we don't really know just how other animals are implicated. In other countries different species are implicated. There are some anomalies too, including the example below.
Has anyone an explanation for the following!
According to last issue of Gwlad, Australia is now bTB free after 27 years of trying. We are told it has no wildlife reservoir. New Zealand is still aiming for eradication. It has a wildlife reservoir - possums - which are considered a pest species as not indigenous so are being culled - and vaccinated!
HOWEVER - possums ARE native to Australia and bTB was rife in country for years so - why are the Australian possums not a reservoir?

The Independent has come out against the cull (www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/editorial-these-badger-culls-represent-the-triumph-of-politics-over-science-8638306. html?dm_i=1NFN,1J6UG,906LDO,58FSK,1). In its editorial today under the heading, 'These badger culls represent the triumph of politics over science'. It says'
"Historically, this newspaper took the view that the risks from bovine TB were so great, and the link to badgers so clear, that a cull, while regrettable, was necessary. Subsequently, however, scientist after eminent scientist has concluded that there is little hard research to justify the decimation of badger populations, which is also passionately opposed by animal lovers. In fact, for all the sound and fury in favour of a cull, Lord Krebs, the eminent Oxford zoologist who conducted the last detailed review of the practice, is just one of an array of experts who have denounced it."
"Why? Because trials have shown that killing territorial animals such as badgers only exacerbates the problem. Vacated areas are soon colonised by other badgers, and more movement of badgers means more movement of TB, and that means an increased risk to cattle on the fringes of the culling area. There may be some small benefits for farmers in the central part of the killing zone, but for the rest the situation is worse than ever."
"The Government insists that this weekend’s pilot cull in two areas will address this fundamental flaw by using rivers, motorways and other boundaries to limit badgers’ movements to and from the killing zones. But no one knows how effective the technique will prove to be."
"Neither is there a clear-cut economic case for going ahead with a cull. One recent assessment, for example, found that for every 150km² plot of land where badger-culling takes place, the total costs – including the policing required to deter protesters – come to more than £1.5m. Meanwhile, the savings in terms of TB prevention in cattle amount to only about £970,000. Hardly the best use of all-too-scarce public money."
"Furthermore, ever since bovine TB was found in badgers in 1971, the finger of blame for spreading the disease has pointed at the endearing creature immortalised as the gruff and solitary Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows. There is good scientific evidence that badgers do help to spread TB in cattle, although other animals, both domestic and wild, may also play some role. But the central issue is how to limit the spread of the disease. Better biosecurity on farms and improved vaccines are both parts of the solution. According to the scientific and economic evidence, culling is not – no matter how much the Government wants it to be."

DEFRA Finally Reveals Shocking Details of Badger Cull Suffering says the
HSI/UK after pushing for the release of all information as veterinarians call on BVA to end support for cull.
The HSI UK (see also: www.hsi.org/world/united_kingdom/news/releases/2013/05/badgers_defra_reveal_053013.html) says:
With badger culling in England potentially just weeks or even days away, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has admitted that some animals are likely to be wounded but not immediately killed, with injured animals expected to experience massive bleeding, hyperventilation and shock, and some eventually dying of secondary infection or starvation.
The revelation is in a document about the department’s "humaneness" assessment for shooting badgers at night requested by Humane Society International/UK. Whilst the information supplied fails to explain how DEFRA intends to measure suffering, the heavily redacted document [PDF] does reveal, for the first time, how the killing methods will inflict physical injury and suffering upon many badgers. Bizarrely, DEFRA uses studies on the killings of entirely different species in completely different circumstances—even including the harpooning of whales at sea—in its attempts to justify the methods it will use for assessing the "humaneness" of shooting free-roaming badgers.
“It is clear why the government resisted answering our request for information. This document provides a shocking insight into the cruel fate that awaits England’s badgers—a dreadful massacre made all the more horrific because it has no basis whatsoever in science,” said HSI/UK Executive Director Mark Jones. “I am also puzzled by comparisons DEFRA makes to the killing methods of entirely different species. Killing a large whale with a harpoon to the brain, in broad daylight in the middle of the sea, has nothing whatsoever to do with shooting a badger in the chest with a rifle or shotgun in the pitch dark in the middle of a wood. The public has no faith in DEFRA’s failed attempts to justify this badger cull, and people will be horrified by the animal suffering. We must kill this cull, not England’s badgers.”
Key facts revealed in the information request:
DEFRA makes assumptions about humaneness based on irrelevant extrapolations from shooting completely different species like fox, deer, rabbit, moose and even harpooning whales.
Badgers are likely to endure severe haemorrhaging, increase in respiratory rate, hyperventilation, and bone injury such as bullet damage to the skull, spine, ribs and legs; soft tissue damage to the lungs, heart and liver.
Those badgers killed relatively quickly will likely die due to “extensive destruction of a vital organ” but those who are not shot cleanly will likely die due to wounds leading to “secondary infection and starvation because of reduced mobility.”
The established method of assessing death—looking for corneal reflexes—will not be used simply for logistical reasons, because it would interfere with the shooting. “The collection of data must not influence or interfere with the action of the shooters.” This means that shot but conscious badgers will be left in order to allow the shooters to carry on killing other badgers.
None of the shooters will have prior experience of shooting badgers; badgers shot earlier in the study are likely to be less cleanly shot because the shooters are learning on the job.
Read HSI/UK’s full critique at www.hsi.org/world/united_kingdom/news/releases/2013/05/badgers_defra_reveal_053013.html
Meanwhile, a group of veterinarians, which includes Mark Jones and TV’s Marc Abraham and Joe Inglis, has published a letter [PDF] in the Veterinary Times and Veterinary Record calling on the British Veterinary Association to withdraw its support for the cull whilst so many concerns about suffering remain.
One of the three stated objectives of the pilot badger culls due to take place this summer in Gloucestershire, Somerset or possibly Dorset, is to conduct a "humaneness" assessment of the killing methods. For more than six months, DEFRA refused repeated requests by HSI/UK to explain its humaneness criteria, and only now has revealed limited information following an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office. As DEFRA is still refusing to answer HSI/UK’s questions about how data collected from observations of shoots and examination of badger carcasses will be used to measure suffering, it is avoiding public scrutiny and making it impossible to assess the scientific credibility of its conclusions. The Information Commissioner’s Office is now investigating.
THE cull may be starting in the south west of the country, but there is little doubt it will be rolled out across the rest of the country if deemed successful, writes Adrian Coward, badger conservation campaigner. in the North West Evening Mail (www.nwemail.co.uk/cull-calls-time-on-bovine-tb-1.1059480?referrerPath=home). His concerns are below.
Sometime after Saturday, about 60 mercenaries will start attempting to humanely shoot healthy badgers in West Somerset.
Subsequently, a similar group will start shooting in West Gloucestershire and surveys are currently under way in Dorset to support subsequent badger killing there.
They will keep shooting in Somerset and Gloucestershire until they have killed at least 5,000 badgers at a bounty of £10 a head.
No one will count the badgers shot and injured that run off to die. None of the badgers will be tested for bovine TB.
We know that proven science against culling won’t stop them; common sense is replaced by bloody mindedness, polarised rural communities are accepted without care, tourism is hit, and the integrity and reputation of all farmers is plummeting.
But political expediency reigns supreme over public opinion.
This is about killing badgers at any cost, not resolving the bovine TB problem.
Don’t blame all farmers. Those manipulating government and the National Farmers’ Union are not typical working farmers, but people on a mission to gain a free hand to decimate badger populations.
This is about ultimately removing badger protection so that they can be persecuted and killed at will.
Our most effective weapon is public opposition; overwhelming public opposition against the culling.
Jonathan Leake, in the Times 26/5/13 under the heading 'Hard culling' puts 100,000 badgers in line of fire' says that OWEN PATERSON, the environment secretary has drawn up plans for a big expansion of badger culling - including allowing farmers the freedom to shoot the animals - before the first two controversial trial culls have even begun.
He wants to create 40 more cull zones in the next four years as part of a drive to eradicate bovine TB. The two planned trial culls, scheduled to start in Somerset and Gloucestershire next Sunday, will see the killing of 5,000 badgers.
Estimates suggest the expansion planned by Paterson could lead to the eventual slaughter of up to 100,000 badgers, a move that will infuriate animal rights and conservation groups opposing the trials. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Paterson warned that badger culling would have to continue at a high level for up to 25 years.
Paterson said getting rid of bovine TB would mean giving farmers the freedom to shoot badgers, a protected species, as freely as they can now shoot foxes, rabbits and other vermin. "Further down the road, the culling of badgers should be a completely normal part of life in the country," he said. Hardly a surprising desire for a known advocate of fox hunting and pest control of various species.
Paterson blames a population explosion of badgers caused by the previous government but the Times points out this is anecdotal because Defra, the environment and farming ministry, has not conducted a population survey since 1997 when there were an estimated 300,000-400,000 badgers. Defra statistics show that since badgers became protected in the 1970s, there has not been significant culling under any government.
Even the randomised badger culling trial between 1998 and 2005 to measure the impact of culling badgers in 10 different parts of the UK, saw only 11,000 animals killed over a sevenyear period. In the cull areas, bovine TB incidence declined by about 16%, a benefit described as marginal by Lord Krebs, the scientist who oversaw the research.
Very recently, Defra's own scientists conceded that the spread of bovine TB may also be linked to the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak when all TB testing was halted. After it was over, tens of thousands of animals were moved into and around the UK as farmers replaced slaughtered herds.
Lord Krebs, now master of Jesus College, Oxford, described the imminent culls as "crazy" and suggested they were motivated by politics rather than science: "The main thing here is transparency. So if politicians are trying to say that the science supports what they are doing when it doesn't, then that is unacceptable."
A family friendly march is being planned for tomorrow 1st June 12pm against the proposed badger cull.

The Government E Petition (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257?dm_i=1NFN,1IOJN,906C6K,56AAB,1) against the proposed badger cull currently has around 230,000 signatures. It is currently attracting the highest numbers of signatures and we understand it is the second highest ever government petition - yet the government continue to ignore public opinion and science.

'Humaneness of badger cull to be judged on noise of dying animals' is the heading of the Guardian's article (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/30/humaneness-badger-cull-judged-noise) reporting on the government document (oddly marked 'protect'?)that reveals measures being used to assess the humaneness of the so called 'trial' badger culls that will begin shortly in England.
The noises made by shot badgers and comparisons with harpooned whales will be among the measures used to assess the humaneness of badger culls in England, a government document seen by the Guardian reveals.
The paper also acknowledges that none of the shooters will have experience of killing free-running badgers and that the requirement to target the heart and lungs is untested.
"With such large-scale killing in our countryside, it is simply unacceptable that the government is continuing to be so evasive about how suffering will be measured during the pilot culls," said Mark Jones, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, which obtained the document through the Freedom of Information Act.
He is particularly concerned that no information has been made public about how wounded animals that retreat underground to die can be included in the humaneness assessment or the proportion of badger carcasses that will be collected for postmortems.
In a previous 10-year trial of badger culling, the animals were trapped in cages before being shot. This method is relatively expensive so in the pilots ministers have allowed marksmen to shoot free-running animals, although this introduces the risk of wounding. Among the factors influencing the accuracy of the shooting, the document notes: "No shooter will have prior experience of shooting badgers." It also notes previous research on free shooting of wild animals all targeted the brain, rather than the chest area.
The document presents four possible outcomes of the shooting, including "death caused directly by the shooting due to severe trauma to vital organs" and "death caused indirectly by the shooting due to non-lethal wounding associated with secondary infections and starvation due to reduced mobility". Missed shots and non-fatal wounding are the other possibilities.
The "time to death" (TTD) is cited as a key factor in assessing pain and distress and the document states: "A similar approach as to that which is used to determine TTD in whales is proposed for the current study." It adds: "Observation of a shot animal's behaviour and vocalisations is the only method available to determine the degree of pain that may be experienced during the dying process."
"I am stunned at the ludicrous and unfounded assumptions that Defra appears to make about the relevance of killing methods for entirely different species such as whales," said Jones. "No credible scientist would have confidence in the way that the government intends to assess the suffering of badgers, and yet Defra appears to be doing all it can to avoid independent scrutiny of its methodology."
A scientist familiar with the cull policy said: "You need to set a threshold – which is subjective – above which it is not considered humane and the cull is stopped. My view is that the threshold has to be pretty damn high. It is not really acceptable for any animal to go off injured." The document states that daily data on the cull will be sent to Defra once the shooting begins "so ministers are aware of any welfare issues and if deemed necessary could halt the cull".
Badger pilot cull support 'not representative' says a number of vets in an open letter published in the Veterinary Times on 27 May 2013.
Dear editor,
The BVA’s position of support for the forthcoming pilot culls of badgers in the west of England is, we believe, not representative of majority cientific or veterinary opinion.
As members of the veterinary profession, we are deeply concerned the shooting of free-roaming badgers at night with shotguns and rifles is very likely to have detrimental welfare impacts on a large number of individual badgers that may be shot, maimed and severely injured, but not killed outright. The natural behaviour of those injured badgers will be to retreat underground where they will probably suffer a slow and very unpleasant death.
Defra claims the “humaneness” of this killing method will be assessed. However, without a detailed protocol it is impossible to judge whether the pilot culls are likely to generate scientifically robust data that can be used to form an objective opinion on humaneness. Indeed, it is our concern the badger carcases being assessed will be unrepresentative because wounded animals experiencing the greatest and most prolonged distress are highly
unlikely to be retrieved for examination, and there will be little or no consideration of the distress caused to surviving badgers whose communities have been disrupted.
In such circumstances, it cannot be right for the BVA to declare support for the badger cull.
Formulation of BVA policy rarely involves the canvassing of its full membership, but rather is achieved through consultation with appropriate specialist divisions. However, policy affecting the welfare of large numbers of badgers that will be subject to controversial control methods should not be confined to those vets who have a vested interest in the dairy or beef industries affected by bTB. The public and the Government look to the veterinary profession to provide guidance and leadership on issues concerning animal welfare and the BVA, rightly or wrongly, is regarded by many members of the public and by government as the voice of the veterinary profession. Given the level of public and esteemed scientific concern generated by this issue, it is surely incumbent on the BVA to ensure its policy reflects the uncertainties surrounding the impacts of culling, particularly in respect to the welfare of affected badgers and their communities. Until more is known about the protocol for assessing “humaneness”, the BVA should withdraw its support for the Government’s
policy forthwith, and, at the very least, canvass its full membership
before reconsidering its position.
Signed by:
c/o Humane Society International/UK,
5 Underwood Street, London N1 7LY.
MARC ABRAHAM, BVM&S, MRCVS, Grove Lodge Veterinary
Group, Southwick Street, Southwick, Brighton BN42 4AD.
Essex Road, Islington, London N1 3AP.
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edin-
burgh, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG.
FIONA DALZELL, BVSc, BA, MRCVS, Littlewood Cottages,
School Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR8 6EP.
Fontwell, West Sussex BN18 0SN.
Hunt Rd, Earls Colne, Essex CO6 2NX.
York St, London W1H 1QS.
c/o June Ford-Crush, PO Box 57948, London W4 2UJ.
Sheepcote St, Birmingham B16 8JZ.
Chobham Road, Sunningdale, Ascot, Berks SL5 0HU.
Stanmer Park Road, Brighton BN1 7JL.
former RSPCA chief scientific officer,
West Chiltington Rd, Pulborough, West Sussex RH20 2EE.
Granville Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 1HB.
c/o Fish Vet Group, Carsegate Road, Inverness IV3 8EX.
sor of Veterinary Epidemiology, University of Zurich.
Section of Epidemiology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurestrasse, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland.
DEFRA MINISTER TURNS HISTORY ON ITS HEAD says Badger Trust in its latest press release. See below.
In attempting to justify his shameful suggestion that farmers should be given the right to shoot badgers freely, Secretary of State Owen Paterson has turned historical fact on its head, says the Badger Trust. "Even worse, in doing so, he has ignored science and pinned his faith and reputation to precisely the wrong way to control or eradicate bovine TB".
It has been known for a decade that this would seriously risk making the situation worse. This was a fundamental finding from the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trial [1], acknowledged as the only sufficiently rigorous scientific field trial. It said any culling must be in carefully controlled conditions and carried out in a coordinated manner over a large area at the same time. The Minister ignores the crucial importance of the badger’s strongly territorial instinct and the disturbance and stress caused, thereby increasing the risk of bTB in badgers.
In an interview with the May 26th Sunday Times Mr Paterson said it would take 20-25 years of hard culling to reduce the number of herds with bTB to 0.2 per cent a year.
This remark also defies history. The Government's own Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Ian Boyd, and Mr Nigel Gibbens, Defra Chief Veterinary Officer, presented journalists with a chart last week that showed how bTB had been all but conquered by the late ‘60s without killing any badgers. The graph shows that the level then remained steady for 20 years.
David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust said: “Mr Paterson’s reported remarks distort history, ignore science and, as the article makes clear, any ‘enormous increase’ in the badger population is only hearsay. The Minister presides over his own department's failures in taking so long to toughen up cattle controls, and the disgraceful mistakes his advisers made over population estimates. These destroy any confidence that he and his department could be taken seriously”.
The Minister refers to a reservoir of the disease in wildlife, but it is hard to see how massive reductions in the past could have been achieved if such a reservoir had any significant effect. This theory has been recently questioned by Prof Peter Atkins, of Durham University's Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience [2].
These low levels were reached nationally five years before badgers were protected in 1973.
Mr Paterson imagines that the legal protection of badgers in 1973 led to a rise in infected cattle, but there was no change. A similar reduction emerged slightly later in the south west, also before protection. Subsequent intermittent culling had no discernible effect and bTB began to rise - in spite of it - from 1990.
Mr Paterson seems to have completely misread the history in his reported claim that the last government stopped culling badgers and “TB took off like a helium balloon”. According to his graph bovine TB had already begun to “take off” by 1992 during culling, which was not suspended until the start of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial in 1998. The rise accelerated after the BSE and foot and mouth epidemics during the 2000s, when restocking with untested cattle took place.
Mr Paterson is also quoted as saying that there had been “an enormous increase in the badger population”, but as the Sunday Times article said, the last estimate was in 1997. His own department’s recent gross errors in estimating badger populations in the Somerset and Gloucestershire pilot areas demonstrate the difficulties – and the hazards – of making such a sweeping statement.
[1] RBCT http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/isg/report/final_report.pdf?dm_i=1NFN,1IP36,906LDO,56CO9,1 See page 85
[2] Durham University News : http://www.dur.ac.uk/news/newsitem/?itemno=16831&dm_i=1NFN,1IP36,906LDO,56COA,1
Today's Guardian article also referred to John Bourne, the vet who led the government's 10-year, £50m trial of badger culling which reported in 2008 that it could "make no meaningful contribution" to curbing bovine TB.
Borune said; "The cattle controls in operation at the moment are totally ineffective," he says, because the tuberculin test used is not very accurate, meaning herds can often test negative even while still harbouring the disease.
"It's an absolute nonsense that farmers can move cattle willy-nilly after only two tests. Why won't politicians implement proper cattle movement controls? Because they don't want to upset farmers."
Bourne acknowledges that cattle can get TB from badgers, but says the true problem is the other way around: "Badger infections are following, not leading, TB infections in cattle."
Bourne oversaw the culling of 11,000 badgers in the trial and says it is very hard to cull quickly and effectively, even without interruptions from protesters. "You just chase the badgers around, which makes TB worse," he says. "We don't know what the outcome of the cull pilots will be but the likelihood is it's going to make things worse."Many cull opponents cite vaccination of badgers, or in future of cattle, as a better alternative.
Interesting article in the Guardian today (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis) with more information concluding the porposed badger cull trials are not the way forward ...
In order to comply with various legislation re the protection status of badgers (ensuring that too many are not killed) and to help prevent perturbation (killing too few badgers) a reasonably accurate population assessment needs to be made in each of the trial cull areas. Badger expert, Professor Rosy Woodroffe has been trapping badgers for research and science for the past fifteen years so she should know what she is talking about. "It's very hard to count an animal that lives underground and only comes out at night," says Prof Rosie Woodroffe. She is seriously worried about the controversial badger culls due to start after 1 June.
The problem, says Woodroffe, is the real number of badgers is hard to establish. Initial estimates were made by counting badger setts.
"This is a stupid way to count badgers," says Woodroffe. "A single sett is not meaningful for a badger because they live in social groups and use more than one sett, possibly four or five."
Initial sett-based estimates from farmers were rejected by the government, which then did its own sett survey, which came up with much higher numbers and derailed the start of the cull in October. The new government data, partly based on DNA testing of badger hair samples, lowered the numbers again.
The uncertainties are so great, says Woodroffe, that it is "perfectly plausible" that every badger in a cull zone could be killed while at the same time too few badgers were killed to meet the minimum number set by the cull licence.
Prof Tim Coulson, a zoologist at Oxford University and a member of the independent expert group advising ministers on the cull, said: "For most wild species, trying to count the number of animals in a population, if they spent a lot of time underground or roaming over large distances, is extremely difficult."
Politicians are hell bent on continuing with a sustained cull of badgers that is not science-led, whatever the consequences and cost.
According to the Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/10081604/Badger-cull-could-last-25-years.html) the cull could last 25 years and see 100,000 badgers killed.
The intention is to roll out culling over Britain with 40 cull zones over the next four years. The next county where a cull will be carried out is Dorset. After that culls could happen in Devon, Cornwall and other areas of the West Country.
Last week, Lord Krebs, now Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, described the imminent culls as "crazy" and suggested they were motivated by politics rather than science: "The main thing here is transparency. So if politicians are trying to say that the science supports what they are doing when it doesn't, then that is unacceptable."
despite the lack of any proper scientific back up the current government are hell bent on continuing with the cull and are already making plans to expand culling into other areas. Such is the public opposition it is inevitable that the police costs are escalating, tourism will be hit, and the integrity and reputation of all farmers is plummeting. Sadly political expediency, led by a farming union that is disproportionately powerful compared to its membership numbers is seen to reign supreme over public opinion.
The current government, pushed on by the NFU, is intent on killing badgers and cattle at any cost, and not resolving the Bovine TB problem (yet another 20 years of killing is estimated). Don’t blame all farmers. Many of those in power pushing for culling are not typical working farmers, but people on a mission to gain a free hand to decimate badger populations. They do not want the badger to remain a protected species and want as many as possible killed. We are already witnessing increased persecution of the species by mindless thugs.
As far as I can see none of badgers killed during culling will be tested for bTB - so how can they possibly know how rife the disease is in this species and if it was worth all the costs involved, not to mention the public outrage.
Maybe the powers that be are worried that if they did check for signs of TB the results would show very little signs of disease?
What hypocrisy! Bill Harper, a Devon farmer and chairman of the National Beef Association's TB group, is reported (in This is Cornwall (http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/hard-years-culls-control-bovine-tuberculosis/story-19102836-detail/story.html#axzz2UV4yOSYL) as saying, clearly about the proposal to cull badgers,
"TB is a disease of overcrowding and poor conditions and this is about getting to a population density that can live healthily," he added.
From what I see from my visits to farms, particularly intensive systems, many cattle live in over crowded and poor conditions!
The Badger Trust too was quick to respond (Press Release dated 23/05/13) to the press briefing comments.
Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Advisor, and Mr Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer of Defra gave a briefing on Tuesday May 21st about the Coalition’s plans to kill badgers in England. It was to be “of most use for journalists new to the policy or in need of a refresher”, but the Badger Trust says it was a rehash of cattle industry and government propaganda.
The most telling part of the presentation was a chart showing how the number of cattle slaughtered because of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in England since 1959 had been all but conquered by the late ‘60s without killing any badgers. Prof Boyd and Mr Gibbens also implied that protection of “the most significant wildlife reservoir of the disease” was a problem, yet this success could not have been achieved if there had been such a reservoir.
They claim that legislation to protect “the most significant wildlife reservoir of the disease, the Eurasian badgers” was a “driver”, yet the first Badgers Act was passed five years after the massive post-war reduction from 25,000 had levelled out at about 2,000 a year, and there was no significant increase following the Act until the 1990s.
Despite subsequent scattered culling operations the number of slaughtered cattle continued within a range of 513 to 1,666 for almost 20 years up to 1993.
The presentation also noted the reduction of bovine TB in Ireland following the snaring of badgers from 30,000 to 17,000 up to 2010, but failed to mention that there had been an equivalent reduction in Northern Ireland where no badgers were killed.
Prof Boyd and Mr Gibbons included the much-repeated statement that no other country that had solved its TB problem has done so without also solving it in the wildlife reservoirs such as Ireland and New Zealand. But neither country has removed the disease altogether and the UK did just as well 50 years ago and without killing wildlife.
The presentation also referred to a trial in Thornbury, Gloucestershire in the ‘70s as providing “supporting evidence” while not a “robust experimental trial”. In fact the study was not set up as an experiment: it included only one culling area and no matched control. There was also some background variation in historical incidence in the trial area and another area nearby “used for comparison” [1]. (Para 5.77)
Crucially, Prof Boyd and Mr Gibbons acknowledged that the more a culling policy deviated from the conditions of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial the more likely the effects of that policy would differ. Yet the method of killing currently proposed does deviate, the areas chosen do deviate, and the duration of culling deviates too.
David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust said: “This culling policy is supposed to be science-led. In fact this presentation demonstrated to the media that science is being led by the farming industry and government prejudice”.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, journalists were told by Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and Nigel Gibbens, Defra's chief veterinary that bTB is out of control across the West country.
They explained culling badgers – which spread the infection – would prevent more cattle becoming sick than by deploying vaccinations? They also defended the negligible, alleged 16% reduction figure plucked out of the air as the percentage reduction in the disease resulting from culling. Using typical scaremongering tactics they warned of a future potential threat to human health if the march of TB is not checked. This is contrary to the latest report, 'Zoonotic Mycobacterium bovis-induced Tuberculosis in Humans ' that basically says that the global impact to human health of bovine TB is pretty small everywhere (even where there is no control)! Gibbens did admit that TB as a serious health risk to humans had been 'largely been dealt with by the introduction of meat inspection and pasteurisation of milk'.
Boyd, pointed to official figures contrasting 235 cases of TB in 1986 to 28,000 last year, said: "We had bovine TB under control in the early 1980s. And essentially we've lost control of this disease in the UK, and particularly certain parts of the UK."
More scaremongering as he warned that "in ten years' time we will have double the problem we have at the moment" and "We also will have a TB epidemic in the countryside that is uncontrolled. That is something we need to take extraordinarily seriously."
Boyd concluded: "The current direction of travel is not tenable in the long-term. We have to try to do something to get this disease under control." Yes, surely we can do that using vaccination!
TIME FOR BADGERS - Press Release from Badger Trust dated 17/05/13
The Badger Trust is to host a unique event at Secret World Wildlife Rescue in Somerset on Sunday 19th May. A helicopter is to film a short advertisement to be put on the Badger Trust and Secret World websites and be uploaded to U-tube. It will be released late next week and is completely different from anything the Trust has ever done.
The reason is that to date the Coalition Government has steadfastly failed to listen to:-
• More than 217,000 + people who have signed the e-gov petition, where the signatures continue to increase.
• Over 30 independent scientists signed a letter printed in the Observer which cast doubt on the outcome of the pilot culls.
• A parliamentary debate was 147 against culling to 28 in favour.
The people, rather than the cattle industry and its representatives in the Coalition, gave this verdict in 2010: nearly 70% of consultees opposed a badger cull [1], a similar percentage was opposed to a badger cull in a randomised BBC poll [2], and just over 90% in a Guardian newspaper poll were also opposed [3]. Yet when the Badger Trust asked to see correspondence between Defra and the NFU, permission was refused on the grounds that the NFU were integral to the policy discussions. So much for open government.
The pilot trials into the method of killing are not to be conducted in the same way as the previous £50 million fully scientific trial and so are pointless. That keynote trial concluded that culling badgers could make no meaningful contribution to the eradication of bTB in Britain.
Pro-cull politicians have claimed to be bored with high-profile celebrities campaigning against the cull. The Badger Trust advertisement will demonstrate how ordinary people want their wildlife heritage preserved for future generations too.
Clearly the Government and Defra are not being very convincing regarding the facts re the proposed badger culling trials - free shooting from June in Glos and Somerset. The majority remain opposed. Tewkesbury Borough Council and the Forest of Dean District Council had previously voted to reject the cull. Now the Glos County Council has confirmed its opposition.
A motion was raised at the Gloucestershire County Council meeting 15th May 13 objecting to the proposed badger cull and it was passed.
Motion 683
This Council notes the serious and damaging animal welfare and economic impact that Bovine TB has on the farming community.
This Council also notes that the Government’s ‘solution’ to bTB is shooting large numbers of free running badgers at night; a proposal that has met fierce criticism from the public, eminent scientists and animal welfare charities.
This Council is concerned that the Government has ignored public, parliamentary and scientific opinion by ploughing ahead with badger cull this summer in a cruel and ineffective attempt to tackle bTB.
This Council believes that the Government would better serve the farming community by investing money in vaccinations for badgers and cattle and encourage farmers to improve bio-security in order to achieve the long-term eradication of the disease in livestock.
This Council resolves to write to Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs to
Highlight the Council’s concern about the practicalities as well as the welfare implications of the current proposed cull
Object to the cull taking place on Council owned land.
Call on the Government to seek alternative methods to tackle the problem of bTB.
Proposed by Cllr Klara Sudbury [Lib Dem]
Seconded by Cllr Simon Wheeler [Lib Dem]

'In 1936, the last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in Hobart Zoo – a tragic tale of man’s greed and stubbornness to accept the true facts and one best consigned to the history books. Surely, in these more enlightened times of 2013, something like the tragic extinction of the thylacine could never happen again, could it?' Lee Connor believes it could happen in England but the target animal this time will be the badger.
As the proposed trial culls loom closer (scheduled to commence from 1 June 2013) Britain’s oldest specialist agricultural journal has condemned government plans to shoot thousands of badgers. http://www.smallholder.co.uk/news/10412318.Smallholder_magazine_criticises_government_plans_for_badger_cull/?ref=nt
The Smallholder magazine, first published in 1910, has accused ministers of poor science and “craven submission to their political paymasters in the agri-lobby.”
The latest issue of Smallholder says government plans to cull badgers as part of its bid to control TB in cattle are doomed to fail. The magazine devotes four pages of its latest edition to the issue.
Smallholder editor Graham Smith writes: “A few years ago, if anyone had suggested that the government should licence armed gangs to roam the countryside to shoot at protected wild animals, they would quite properly have been dismissed as bonkers.
“The imminent badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have got very little to do with TB in cattle – and everything to do with a craven government submitting to its political paymasters in the agri-lobby.
“Some badgers carry TB. So do many other wild animals. So do domestic cats.
“But the biggest single cause of TB in cattle is undoubtedly other cattle. Anyone who has ever seen the steam, hanging like a shroud over a large, crowded cattle shed; a shed which perhaps was not as clean as it should be; packed with cows that rarely saw a blade of grass; will recognise the ideal conditions for transmitting TB. Big Farming does not like this inconvenient truth because it erodes profit margins. Much easier to blame the badger.
“Even the method of the cull – open shooting – seems almost deliberately designed to offend science. How many bullets will be fired? How many animals (the majority of them totally free of TB) will be simply wounded?
“When Parliament debated the badger cull only 28 MPs could be found to vote in favour of it. 147 voted against, and it seems this is a reasonable reflection of wider public opinion.
“Defra today has returned to its “Bad Old Days” when MAFF was the laughing stock of Whitehall; its desire to submit to its client-group fuelling foot and mouth disease, BSE and generally contributing to the environmental degradation of the British countryside.
“Smallholder has every sympathy with anyone whose livestock is infected with TB. But shooting badgers is not the answer.”
'Whole Genome Sequencing Reveals Local Transmission Patterns of Mycobacterium bovis in Sympatric Cattle and Badger Populations' can be read in full at: http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1003008
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) technology holds great promise as a tool for the forensic epidemiology of bacterial pathogens. It is likely to be particularly useful for studying the transmission dynamics of an observed epidemic involving a largely unsampled ‘reservoir’ host, as for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in British and Irish cattle and badgers. BTB is caused by Mycobacterium bovis, a member of the M. tuberculosis complex that also includes the aetiological agent for human TB. In this study, we identified a spatio-temporally linked group of 26 cattle and 4 badgers infected with the same Variable Number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) type of M. bovis. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) between sequences identified differences that were consistent with bacterial lineages being persistent on or near farms for several years, despite multiple clear whole herd tests in the interim. Comparing WGS data to mathematical models showed good correlations between genetic divergence and spatial distance, but poor correspondence to the network of cattle movements or within-herd contacts. Badger isolates showed between zero and four SNP differences from the nearest cattle isolate, providing evidence for recent transmissions between the two hosts. This is the first direct genetic evidence of M. bovis persistence on farms over multiple outbreaks with a continued, ongoing interaction with local badgers. However, despite unprecedented resolution, directionality of transmission cannot be inferred at this stage. Despite the often notoriously long timescales between time of infection and time of sampling for TB, our results suggest that WGS data alone can provide insights into TB epidemiology even where detailed contact data are not available, and that more extensive sampling and analysis will allow for quantification of the extent and direction of transmission between cattle and badgers.
More people are asking if it could be cats that could be contributing to the spread of bTB. The real answer is - no one knows. We are not aware of any research in this area. Any mammal can contract the disease. There are some records kept re cats with bTB and Defra report if they are aware of disease info from vets but probably under-reported and under-diagnosed. Interesting to note that current estimates are some 10.3 million cats, and population is still growing fast with around 2 million feral (compared to around 300,000 badgers).
The cat is believed to be a spillover host so not supposed to sustain the disease.
As MG points out in his email dated 26/4/13 'It makes sense that farm cats could have high levels of Btb as they are well known for drinking raw milk normally given by the farmer!'
On 14 March the NFU-organised an event, attended by around 170 farmers and vets, to discuss keeping Lincolnshire free of bovine TB. vets and people representing industry organisations, heard from an expert panel of speakers. Derbyshire-based vet James Russell advised that farmers could keep the area bTB free.
Speaking as a practising vet in Derbyshire’s TB 'hotspot', James was passionate in his calls for farmers to take responsibility for their own industry. He urged producers not to trust the pre-movement test but to ask many more questions before brining cattle, from whatever source, onto their farms: 'risk-based trading' is the key to keeping TB at bay – the lower the risk the better. He was equally passionate in urging farmers not to bring in TB that could infect the county’s wildlife, as once the infection reaches the county’s badgers, it would become almost impossible to eradicate. By practising the best possible biosecurity, on all aspects of the livestock enterprise, Lincolnshire’s farmers stand a chance of remaining TB free.
Cheshire dairy farmer, Ian McGrath spoke next, giving the audience a blow-by-blow account of his Holstein herd’s TB history. Speaking of his own experiences, Ian brought the stark message home: TB is a major disease with devastating consequences for your herd, your business and your family. He spoke of the practical consequences of finding TB, of the need to get properly equipped for testing and how his business had struggled to cope with calves, barren cows and the 40 TB tests he and his family had undertaken since TB struck the farm. Ian’s experiences, he hoped, would prevent Lincolnshire producers from having to go through what he and his fellow Cheshire farmers had.
Summing up the situation, NFU’s Vice President, Adam Quinney gave an account of the situation in Somerset and the South West, where the pilot badger culls are due to start in the summer. He emphasised that keeping wildlife free of the disease is just as important as keeping cattle healthy and encouraged the meeting to consider vaccinating healthy badgers if a reactor was found in a beef or dairy herd. It’s worth considering in a TB-free area such as Lincolnshire, he said.
Biosecurity is the key to keeping Lincolnshire TB-free, Adam agreed with his fellow speakers. Trading cattle from all over the country must continue but the risks of bringing infected cattle must be at the absolute minimum: ask questions of the auctioneers, breeders and get you vet to contact his colleagues to do the same. Without a cattle vaccination, which could take up to ten years, the only way to stem the TB tide is to be absolutely sure of the animals you’re buying.
The event’s final, stark message was that Lincolnshire can only be TB free with the whole industry acting together to keep it that way. As Ian McGrath said: the only way that TB will get to Lincolnshire is on a lorry. That message has to get to all producers, whether they’re farmers, dealers, smallholders or whatever. Biosecurity of the highest standard has to be the industry’s watchword.
There were nine cases in herds across Lincolnshire last year.
Info from: http://www.nfuonline.com/about-us/our-offices/east-midlands/holland-%28lincs%29/latest-news/nottinghamshire-plans-to-cut-crime-/...

In Ireland €3.4 million has been spent culling 7000 badgers in 2012. This has apparently reduced bovine reactor numbers by 55 so the cost is €61,000/cow!


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