Wildlife Reservoirs, is the badger a costly distraction, a scapegoat ...?
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?
30 Jan 2013, 10:15 AM
The 'Bovine TB Eradication Programme IAA Badger Vaccination Project Year 1 Report' by the Welsh Assembly has just been published and can be read in full at:
Of course many will ask the question - 'If badgers can be vaccinated, why can't we vaccinated our cattle?'
The conclusions of the report are below:
The Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer considers that the first year of this project was successful in meeting the objective to trap and vaccinate as many badgers as possible within the IAA. The confirmed number of badgers caught and vaccinated is 1424, which was achieved without incident or injury during one of the wettest summers on record. Solid project management and the dedication of the entire team contributed to this outcome.
This year's success depended on the co-operation of landowners and occupiers granting access to land to set traps and vaccinate captured badgers.
Round 9 which was undertaken in November, covered a smaller area than previous rounds and resulted in proportionally fewer badgers being trapped. The lower trapping rate is likely to be due to the extremely poor weather conditions experienced during November and the fact that badgers become less active during winter months.
The variance in capture rates across rounds may be due to several contributing factors, including varying badger density, time of year and size of areas trapped.
During 2012, the project delivered badger vaccination in areas that had been surveyed in 2010. It is intended to expand the project where possible into previously un-surveyed areas to further increase coverage in future years. Increasing the duration of a cycle of work and increasing the number of field operatives will also be considered to ensure vaccination can be delivered over a wider area.
It is difficult to make inferences based on a single year’s data, but as the project progresses there should be increased scope to interrogate the dataset and reach meaningful conclusions.
18 Jan 2013, 6:32 PM
According to a study, carried out by a team from Bangor University, the University of Kent and Kingston University, about one in 10 livestock farmers in Wales has illegally killed a badger recently.
The study involved a "randomised response technique" sometimes used to find out about illegal or controversial subjects. The survey was carried out between June and September 2011 at five major agricultural shows and 12 farmers markets across Wales. The findings suggest about 10% of farmers had killed a badger in the 12 months before they were approached. The figure rose to 14.5% among those who farmed cattle.
The researchers believe the findings are important because of concerns that killing a relatively small number of badgers in an uncontrolled way can increase the spread of bovine TB, as infected badgers move on when social groups are disrupted.
Paul Cross, from Bangor University's school of environment, natural resources and geography, said he believed the results of the survey were important.
"The proportion of farmers estimated to have killed badgers should be considered by policymakers and in the wider debate," he said. "Intensive badger culling is one approach being considered by policymakers in an attempt to control the spread of tuberculosis in cattle. However, studies investigating the effects of badger culling on TB outbreaks in cattle have not factored in the prevalence of illegal badger killing, and its potential to spread disease."
The scientists were interested that sheep farmers, whose animals are not affected by bovine TB, also appeared to have killed badgers. The research paper said: "The finding that 6.7% of sheep-only farmers reported killing badgers is intriguing as there is no explicit reason for such behaviour. It may suggest a background level of badger-killing for sport, or that farmers have a collective sense of responsibility to control badgers, particularly in regions where sheep and cattle farms share boundaries."
Info from: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/17/livestock-farmers-kill-badgers-study
26 Dec 2012, 1:21 PM
Letter, dated 24 December 2012, by Dave Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust:
As we move towards the New Year I’m writing to briefly update you on our plans for 2013. Put simply, we fight on. Clearly it will be a difficult year with the Coalition apparently adamant that the postponed culls will go ahead. There are rumours—and that’s all they are at present—that the pilot culls may be switched to other areas, but there is little point in speculating why that might happen until we have positive news, one way or the other. Legal action remains the most promising line of attack to stop the culls ever taking place and we will continue to explore every viable option. We stopped the proposed Welsh cull in its tracks and as you know the new administration in Wales has opted for vaccination rather than slaughter. That solution remains the best long-term way forward for the remainder of the UK, with cattle vaccination the ultimate weapon against this insidious disease. The Government attempts to justify a badger cull with the fatuous statement that “to do nothing” is not an option. No, of course, it isn’t, but a massive costly non-selective counter-productive slaughter of mostly healthy badgers isn’t the answer, either.
Using the ISG’s 2007 final report, in which it analysed the findings of 10 years of peer-reviewed research, we have argued consistently that until there is a cattle vaccine bTB will be brought under control only when farmers and the farming industry are forced to adopt much more rigorous disease control procedures. Belatedly the Government introduced some new measures in 2012 and more will take effect in 2013. Those measures should be allowed to take effect and the badger cull should be shelved. Remember, the Government’s best forecasts only claim a reduction in bTB spread of 12-16 per cent over NINE years. Self evidently badgers are NOT the main problem. The scientific case for a badger cull remains weak, so with the help of scientific advisers, and the support of other organisations in Team Badger and the Badger Protection League, we will continue to expose the myths and half truths that prop up what we see as a politically driven campaign and we will continue to highlight every strand of new research that strengthens our case for a cure rather than a cull.
Our case against the cull is built on three powerful platforms: the law, science, and public support. All will be crucial in 2013. In the months since our judicial review to stop the culls was turned down we have continued to explore all current legal options, and I attach with this note a letter from our legal team which summarises the latest exchange of letters with Natural England and with Defra and you will see that we continue to question and challenge them on every point of detail.
As we move ahead, your support and encouragement remains vital. We are, after all, your voice. All of us at the Badger Trust have been heartened by the encouragement we have received so consistently. It motivates us to battle on. Rest assured we will do all we can to save the badger and bring the scourge of bovine TB under control. It won’t be easy. But we won’t give up.
26 Dec 2012, 10:50 AM
Interesting story in the Guardian on 11 November 2012. 'The truth about bovines, badgers and the spread of TB'. It tells us that convention held that humans had caught tuberculosis from cattle – but the DNA record apparently tells a different story.
As the ex-Defra Field Manager running the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) in the South West, I feel well qualified to make recommendations as to the best way forward if a cull is to be acceptable by the general public, including the Badger Trust and its many allies. Firstly, unless land owners are convinced that only, and I mean only, infected badgers are being removed from their land they will never participate in any trial willingly.
I had the task of visiting all those who refused to participate in the RBCT. The common theme was – "unless my badgers are infected you can’t touch them." No amount of cajoling would change their stance.
In February 2010, I met with a minister and other interested parties at the Enigma Diagnostics HQ in Porton Down. There we discussed the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology as a way forward in combating the disease. We were all totally sold on the idea as it would keep all factions happy if it were introduced. Sadly, since then, the idea seems to have fizzled out for whatever reasons. It is now time to resurrect that interest and to introduce it, on a trial basis, as a way forward in combating the disease.
As an aside, we were then told that in 2010, there wasn’t enough time to undertake PCR trials as the farming industry wouldn’t entertain the idea of waiting for a solution. They were after a “quick fix”. Here we are, 30 months later, still without an effective tool to combat bovine TB ! How ironic !
I understand that Warwick University have been working on PCR technology for some time with increasingly encouraging results. Surely, by cage trapping badgers, testing their blood/sputum/urine/faeces using PCR, backed up by a blood test, we would have a viable live time, in-field test that could be rolled out fairly quickly? Reactor and field mapping, such as was used in previous culling operations could closer target the use of PCR on infected setts.
Imagine being able to identify the infected badgers and removing them from the countryside, combined with the vaccination of “clean” badgers before releasing them back into the wild – what a way forward for all concerned !
I was involved in the Live Testing trials (of badgers) in 1994/5. The test was dropped as it wasn’t accurate enough to move forward with. When we did find infected badgers we culled them and all the occupants of the setts they came from. Using PCR would facilitate similar action being taken.
You may be aware that the Alpaca TB Support Group have already commissioned the trial use of PCR technology on dead alpacas, diagnosed by postmortem and culture with tuberculosis? Their results to date have been more than encouraging, with an over 80% detection rate. The second phase results on animals with less advanced lesions, are also encouraging. If this small group can do such a trial on a shoestring budget, surely a larger project, publicly funded, could be trialled using badgers instead of alpacas ? If Public funding wasn’t available, levy a TB tax on every animal passing through our livestock markets to raise enough cash to fund it.
DEFRA will never win over the general public with a mass cull of badgers. The fact that 84% of those which we were able to trap and cull during the RBCT were on postmortem, not lesioned, is too fresh in their minds and will always be used as ammunition to fight any 'area' type cull. If you really want to win the public over, go down the PCR route combined with vaccination. Do not let FERA or DEFRA deliver the trials as they can be done more cheaply and efficiently using Contractors. To me it is a no brainer !
I am always happy to input my thoughts into any trial that may occur in the future, in the best interests of farmers, badger lovers and the general public.
Paul Caruana Ex-Defra Field Manager (Polwhele) Paul is now a director of Field Services South West Ltd.,
12 Dec 2012, 6:11 PM
“[We] don't know about our "veterinary leaders", but the oath we took on qualifying was that it would be “my constant endeavour to ensure the welfare of animals under my care”. We remember no oath of allegiance to the Government of the day, trade in animal products or money. We wonder whether it is time the veterinary profession split into those who genuinely care for the health and welfare of animals, and those for whom butchery and massacre are the tools of first resort.” - McGill et al., Vet Times Nov. 19.
The debate around badger killing continues to rage within the British veterinary press. Government plans to shoot badgers were recently supported in the Veterinary Times by the Presidents of the British Veterinary Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association.
However, a growing number of vets are coming out against the culling proposals. Letters are being published in veterinary journals, and a group of nine vets have provided a succinct summary of the key welfare problems in a letter to the government. And they also have a Facebook page (with links to the various letters sent) for veterinary professionals opposed to the badger cull. http://www.facebook.com/VetsAndVetNursesAgainstTheBadgerCull
12 Dec 2012, 6:06 PM
More news on this from the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_lords/newsid_9777000/9777131.stm).
Crossbench peer Lord Krebs, a leading expert on bovine tuberculosis, has called on the government to 'review all the options' to control the disease, ahead of a proposed badger cull next summer. He was speaking during oral questions on 11 December 2012.
Lord Krebs wanted to know how the success of the trials would be judged, and whether the government would look again at the different options.
He told peers: "Not even the most optimistic proponent of culling would consider that it is a credible strategy for eradication of this dreadful disease."
His view was supported by Leader of the Opposition Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who insisted there was still no "scientific, economic or moral" basis for culling.
Labour peer, Lord Hoyle, had tabled the original question, saying that scientific evidence over 10 years shows killing badgers makes 'hardly any difference' to tackling the disease. Lord Hoyle went on to urge the government to follow the lead of the Welsh Assembly, and opt for 'vaccination over elimination.'
But Environment Spokesman Lord De Mauley said that while the government wanted to use vaccinations for cattle and badgers, there were currently 'practical problems' with this approach.
12 Dec 2012, 5:44 PM
Labour’s Lord Hoyle said scientific evidence suggested the killing of badgers would make no difference to the problem, with some 'eminent' scientists arguing it could make it worse.
“In view of that will you now follow the policy of the Welsh Assembly and decide on a policy of vaccination, rather than elimination?” he demanded at question time.
Lord de Mauley said he disagreed on the science but that the Government was investing in extensive research, though there were “practical difficulties” with the injectable vaccine, including trapping, cost and annual repeat.
Independent crossbencher Lord Krebs, who carried out a scientific review of the bovine TB issue in the 1990s and has been critical of the Government’s move, asked how the success or failure of the two pilots would be judged.
“Is it not right that the Government should take the opportunity between now and next summer to review all the options for controlling TB in badgers – bearing in mind that not even the most optimistic proponent of culling would consider it is a credible strategy for eradication of this dreadful disease,” he said.
The minister told him that an independent panel of experts would oversee the two pilots to test assumptions about the humaneness and safety of the culling plan.
Information from: www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Abandoned-badger-culls-cost-Government-1-15/story-17566318-detail/story.html
14 Nov 2012, 8:16 PM
For anyone interested in reading the Badger Trust appeal it can be found here www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/748_S4.pdf
The letters the Badger Trust and its solicitors sent to Natural England can be read here, together with responses from Natural England:
Now, almost certainly, by this time, the decision had been made to postpone the trial culls. They had not, and could not, answer the BT's LBA and realised that they were staring at another Judicial Review, and that this time there would be no way out. The Secretary of State was called back from Paris and made his announcement in the house.
Welsh public don't want badger cull, were the wise words of Welsh deputy farming minister Alun Davies who recently squashed any hopes that a badger cull will take place in Wales to combat bovine tuberculosis.
At the NFU Cymru conference in Builth Wells on 1 November, Mr Davies said that the arguments for and against a cull were over and that culling was no longer on the agenda.
He told farmers that "When I was campaigning for re-election it was clear that there was no support in the Welsh public for a badger cull; in fact there is active opposition. Politicians in every constituency would lose their deposits if they were campaigning for a cull today. We can constantly look back and wish that things were different but there is no support among the Welsh public or indeed the Welsh government to go ahead with a badger cull. There is simply not a majority in the Senedd to pass the policy you require; it is a matter of mathematical reality.''
He insisted that the Welsh government was the only UK administration that was actively tackling the reservoir of TB in badgers. The first cycle of a five-year badger vaccination programme was completed last month. "I know we have a policy that is in tune with the public mood," Mr Davies added.
He sympathised with farmers whose herds were infected by bovine TB. "One of the great tragedies of the debate is that it is centred on the future of the badger and not the future of Welsh agriculture," he said.
FROM THE LORDS 25/10/12 Lord Krebs: My Lords, as has been said, bovine TB is a serious problem, and it deserves serious science to underpin policy. I do not want to take up too much time, but I hope that your Lordships will forgive me as an individual who has been involved in this over the past 15 years and, as has been said, instigated the randomised badger culling trial and took part in the review of the evidence with Sir Bob Watson last year. It is worth briefly repeating the facts: the long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years. In other words, 84% of the problem is still there. To reflect on what that means, this is not a reduction in absolute terms but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase. So after nine years there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning; it is just that there is 16% less than there would have been without a cull. The number is not the 30% that the NFU quoted; that is misleading-a dishonest filleting of the data. The other thing that the experts conclude is that culling makes the situation worse at the beginning so it will take a long time to emerge into this Nirvana of a 16% reduction, and 84% of the problem is still there.
That is just the background. I turn to questions that I hope the Minister will answer. Last Friday we were told by the Minister of State for Food and Farming that between 500 and 800 badgers would be culled in each of the two areas. The number, thanks to rapid badger reproduction over the weekend, is now 5,530 over the two areas-a fourfold increase. I am impressed. What this underlines is that if the policy is to cull at least 70% of the badgers, we have to know what the starting number is. This variation from just over 1,000 to more than 5,000 in the space of a few days underlines how difficult it is for us to have confidence that the Government will be able to instruct the farmers to cull 70% if they do not know the starting numbers. So my first question to the Minister is: how will he assure us that these numbers are accurate?
If we ask why the NFU has backed out, it is because it was due to pay those who were going to shoot the badgers on a per-badger basis. The NFU calculated it on the basis of shooting 1,300 badgers. Suddenly it is told, "It's 5,500 badgers". The farmers thought it was worth doing-but not that much. They have done their own cost-benefit calculation and say that it is not worth the candle. So my second question to the Minister is: in next year's cull, who is going to pay? Are the farmers going to stump up on a per-badger basis to shoot 5,500 badgers or are we, the taxpayer, going to pay?
Finally and briefly, we have a pause and time to rethink. I urge the Minister to gather together scientific experts and rethink the Government's strategy altogether, starting from square one.
29 Oct 2012, 12:02 PM
The Krebs' report said vaccination was the most promising strategy (see extract below) - so maybe we should be demanding to know why all the attention has, instead, been focussed on the wildlife reservoir (despite most accepting that badger culling is not cost effective, is publicly unpopular and likely to make so little difference and even make situation worse)? Little/nothing has been done to pave the way for EU reg changes. Girling admitted this in the Farming Today interview on 27 October 2012.
The Krebs report has recommended the development of cattle vaccines as the most promising strategy to control bovine tuberculosis in the UK. ‘Testing TB Vaccines in cattle – SE3212’ Report can be downloaded as a PDF from the internet. Cost: £1,609,963
25 Oct 2012, 5:32 PM
Following today's debate on the badger cull motion the vote was overwhelmingly for the motion (147 to 28). I was impressed by the knowledge of many of the MPs that spoke and it was interesting to hear the obvious support for cattle vaccination. At the end, as a point of order, the Speaker advised that the House had voted and offered its views but that it was not binding on Government policy. Before the vote, Heath was asked by Tory MP Mark Pritchard: "Will ministers accept the will of this house?" Heath said they would "listen" to the views of the house.
Mark Pritchard MP: I am sure you will guide me if it is not, Mr Speaker. For clarity, is it still the case, as has been the tradition over centuries in this place, that a vote carried in the House of Commons is binding on the Government?
Mr Speaker: 'The answer to that, in short, is no. Only legislation binds. The Hon. Gentleman will have heard the response, as will other Hon. Members. The House has voted and offered its view. I will leave it there. That is as pithy an encapsulation as I can offer to the Hon. Gentleman.'
Surely the Government would be unwise to ignore today's debate and the unanimous support for the motion. Maybe we will now see cattle vaccination expedited?
The call for the parliamentary debate was supported by a cross-party group of 36 MPs. The motion to be debated states: "This house recognises that significant, independent scientific research has demonstrated that culling badgers will have little effect on reducing the rate of bovine TB; acknowledges that culling may even exacerbate the problem; notes that the e-petition against the current plans for culling passed in a very short period of time the 100,000 figure required to make it eligible for debate in parliament and that it continues to attract impressive levels of support from members of the public; calls on the government to stop any planned or present culling of badgers; and further calls on the government to introduce a vaccination programme and measures to improve biosecurity with immediate effect."
Stop the badger cull e-petition currently at 163,594
Responsible department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Badger Trust responds to recent announcement made to postpone culls and its Press Release sates:
WHAT PARLIAMENT WAS NOT TOLD
The Ministerial statement in the Commons about the postponement of badger culling in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire and the subsequent discussion contained a series of oft-repeated half-truths about bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
In advance of the six-hour debate tomorrow (Thursday October 25) the Badger Trust now repairs some of the omissions:
1. “The disease is out of control”
Fewer cattle have been slaughtered through bTB each year from 2008 to 2011 (last full-year figures). 
2. No other country in the world has successfully overcome bTB without tackling the reservoir of the disease in wildlife.
The UK did. We brought the total of cattle slaughtered down from 47,476 in 1938 to 628 in 1979 without killing wildlife. If there was a “wildlife reservoir” then it could have had little effect – and such a reservoir could not have suddenly appeared when infection began to soar after 1990 .
3. The most recent follow up work of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) has shown a significantly reduced level of TB infection inside the control area . . .
Not “significantly” reduced. Lord Krebs, who originated the trial, said recently  that the benefit would be 16 per cent fewer breakdowns and take nine years to achieve after massive cost. It would be so slight that the average farmer – who would be paying the massive cost - would probably not notice the difference. He also said: ““The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case”.
4. The only available vaccine for badgers involves trapping and injecting each animal – something that is hugely expensive and very impractical.
It is no more expensive or impractical than trapping badgers to shoot them, but vaccination provides immunity for life and does not stir up badger populations. The proposed cheap method of shooting sufficient free running badgers is still untested.
5. Vaccination has no effect on animals that have already become infected which includes a significant proportion of the badger population in “hot spot” areas.
Wrong. The vaccine slows the progress and severity of the disease, reducing the risk of the animal becoming infectious. The proportion of badgers infected is not as he claims "significant". It was one in nine in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) – 1,100 out of 9,000 killed - wrong again. 
6. The number of new bTB cases has increased in recent months, with the latest Defra stats showing a 6.3% increase in the number of new TB incidents in January – March 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.
These figures are out of date and represent a flagrant piece of cherry picking. A “case” is not defined – it could be an affected herd or an individual infected animal, for which a farmer would be compensated.
The full story is this: the latest official provisional incidence rate (herds) for July THIS YEAR is 5.2%, compared to 6.0% in July 2011.
The number of new herd incidents during January to July 2012 was 3,018 compared to 3,021 for January to July 2011 – virtually the same. The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered was 21,512 in January to July 2012, compared to 20,514 in January to July 2011.
However, the number of tests on officially TB free herds went up by 19 per cent in the same period (45,443 in 2012, to 38,051 in 2011, an increase of 7,392). Perhaps as a consequence 21,512 cattle were slaughtered (and compensated for) in all herds in the same period in 2012 against 20,514 in 2011 – a rise of only 4.8%. 
7. The truth is that culls have been shown to work. The Irish Government has been conducting a badger control programme and it clearly indicates that over recent years the number of reactors has fallen by a third.
The official report on the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) concluded: “The elimination of badgers from large tracts of the countryside [as in Ireland] would be politically unacceptable, and . . . badger welfare issues must be taken into account. After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain .
The Coalition’s own consultation document  said of the RBCT: “. . . it is not possible to compare the effectiveness of most of these different policies or compare any of them with the impact of not culling badgers at all, because they were not scientific trials. The RBCT is the only one of these that was conducted as a rigorous scientific trial.
 Defra archive, TB statistics.
 W.D. Macrae. Zoological Society of London from Symp, Zool. Soc., Lond. No. 4, pp. 81-90 (April, 1961) and MAFF TB statistics.
 Radio 4, Farming Today, October 12th and Page One, The Observer October 14th.
... and here is the response from the Badger Trust.
POSTPONEMENT GIVES A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT
The statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirming the postponement of the proposed badger cull contained a shameful series of evasions and errors in seeking to justify the killing of badgers and the impractical methods the Coalition proposes to use.
Nevertheless, the Badger Trust still hopes the Government will consider more carefully all the new issues that have emerged over the last few months. The Trust calls for an open and transparent public review of all the issues including the costs, public safety, practicability, science, animal welfare and the emergence of alternatives to culling.
Informed scientific opinion seeks a national bTB eradication strategy which would make clear the miniscule contribution and considerable dangers to be expected from culling.
The Badger Trust puts some of Mr Owen Paterson’s remarks into perspective.
There is no evidence that the badger population has increased since the last estimate in 1997. He claimed the Government had devised a much more effective culling method -- one that has never been tried and which they need pilot culls to test. Britain enjoyed 20 years with about 1,000 cattle slaughtered annually. The number rose when testing was disrupted by BSE and foot and mouth, but for 16 years the industry stood out against pre-movement testing. Ten times as many cattle are killed for diseases other than bovine TB. Compensation is paid for the TB-infected cattle, but not for the others.
In saying no other country had tackled bTB without addressing wildlife Mr Paterson, his predecessor and the farming organisations have forgotten that the United Kingdom did so after World War II, bringing the cattle toll down from 47,476 to a low point of 628 in 1979, without killing badgers. Bovine TB is not currently spreading. In fact the number of cattle lost – and compensated for – has been falling from 2008 up to last year. The disease is not being “left unchecked”. A new range of long-awaited and overdue farm-based measures have finally been announced for next year. Marksmen shooting badgers at night will have to kill at least seven out of ten – but the Coalition has no idea how many badgers there are in the first place. Other species do not have to be culled to a specified minimum. The problems for the farming industry remain unaffected by the statement. They are:
Keep the public safe despite the secrecy about boundaries. How to find the badgers and achieve sufficient ‘humane’ kills. Get the farmers to pay up for what promise to be ever-escalating bills. How to keep the shooting, the identity of participating famers and landowners secret from criminal activity by protesters.
Farmers and landowners have been sadly deluded into believing in - and paying for - the proposed unholy mess based on a 40-year-old prejudice impervious to science.
23 Oct 2012, 4:21 PM
www.defra.gov.uk/news/2012/10/23/badger-cull/ - here is latest statement from Defra re postponement of cull.
23 Oct 2012, 9:25 AM
The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, will announce today that the government is delaying its plan to cull thousands of badgers, probably until next year at the earliest. There is continued and growing concern about the cost and effectiveness of the controversial scheme.
Apparently he was forced to return from an official trip abroad to oversee the U-turn.
No doubt the decision will please the growing number against the cull, which includes many of the top scientists involved with bTB. These have expressed severe doubts about whether the cull will work.
For some reason no effort had been made to count the badgers until the cull preparations were well underway. Numbers were need or how could the percentage figure be known. We ask how did they arrive at the increased figures? Were reliable methods used? If not then there will be the inevitable outcry from those for the cull stating that as numbers have increased the badger population is getting out of control.
We assume that the Parliamentary debate is still going ahead on the 25th October. This will be the first full debate in the House of Commons on the subject of badger culling.
21 Oct 2012, 6:49 PM
Badger cull under threat from last-minute legal challenge according to a report in the Guardian today (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/21/badgers-bovine-tuberculosis?newsfeed=true). The Badger Trust's lawyers have served a 16-page legal letter on Natural England, the government agency licensing the culling, which could halt the cull. "The costs of the cull are soaring out of control, with little benefit in sight for farmers and major risks posed for members of the public in the cull areas," said Gwendolen Morgan, the trust's solicitor at Bindmans LLP. "It is time for the government to reconsider."
The delayed cull now appears at serious risk of being abandoned, for this year at least.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson and farming minister David Heath added to the confusion by cancelling a series of media interviews. Whitehall sources compared the chaotic situation to The Thick of It. One said: "Paterson and No 10 have had to persuade the National Farmers' Union to continue with the cull to avoid another U-turn." Now that really is a shocker.....
The new legal letter is an "urgent pre-action protocol letter", which gives NE a final chance to address the trust's concerns before the latter seeks a judicial review – and an injunction, if needed — to halt the cull. The letter has effectively put a temporary stop on the cull.
"We have now had information which reveals a number of serious flaws in the licensing process," writes Morgan. "We have advised our clients that the licences granted are unlawful."
The Trust argues that the public's legal right to safety is put at risk by the fact that no barriers or warnings will be posted around the cull areas, meaning people using publicly accessible land could walk into the shooting area.
A Natural England spokesman for said: "We are considering the letter and will respond in due course."He confirmed the final licence conditions had yet to be met by the cullers but could be fulfilled at any time, meaning badgers could begin to be killed immediately. As winter approaches, time is fast running out for the cull to begin because badgers lie low in their setts in the cold weather. Farmers must kill at least 70% of all the badgers over six weeks because otherwise escaping badgers spread TB further and increase infections.
The Trust also argues that the spiralling costs of the cull mean NE has a duty to carry out a new cost impact assessment.
On Friday, it was revealed that the government had to spend £850,000 surveying badger numbers after the data supplied by landowners was found to be inadequate. The government's initial assessment already showed that the cull will cost more than it saves. The Trust is also concerned that the method of killing the badgers allowed in the policy is being changed.
Many farmers are not happy about the cull either. This is Devon (/www.thisisdevon.co.uk/Badger-cull-pilots-waste-time-money-effort/story-17134043-detail/story.html#axzz2UfpdDo2Q) report on a couple who, despite losing more than half their valuable organic herd of beef cattle, are against the badger cull. Robert James and Kate Palmer think the pilot culls in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury are a waste of time, money and effort. "If you cull badgers in one place, within months other badgers will come back in. Then what will happen? It will not stop TB," said Robert James, who farms more than 100 acres of organic land at Witheridge, in North Devon.
They are petitioning the Government to get on with the development of an effective TB vaccine for cattle without delay – and pay realistic compensation for the loss of organic cattle, instead of a flat rate.
Mr James added: "We have lost over £15,000, as the Government does not pay organic market prices in compensation. We had four cows killed that did not have TB."
"I feel very passionately about this. I have a friend who farms on Exmoor whose herd has gone down with TB, without a badger on the farm and with no new stock bought in. The answer was TB in the wild red deer population."
He added: "The Government has to get on with a vaccine that works."
21 Oct 2012, 6:23 PM
Brian May has been doing a tremendous job in exposing the facts about bovine TB. A vehement opposer of the badger cull he has clearly looked at all the issues involved. His recent article in the Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2220734/This-cruel-badger-cull-pointless--I-prove-says-Queen-guitarist-Brian-May.html? ito=feeds-newsxml) sums up progress to date.
Interestingly Brian had a brief encounter with the new Defra Minister, Owen Paterson, who, he said, seemed positively jubilant about the ‘imminent’ badger cull he is so enthusiastically backing. Brian asked him; ‘Surely it would be better to vaccinate cattle instead of this cruel cull of badgers?’ He gave a condescending smile and said: ‘Not a chance! Vaccination of cattle is years away.’ He pushed the palm of his hand into the middle distance, effectively cutting off any further discussion.
Brian's article goes on to say 'So WHY is Mr Paterson, his Government and the National Farmers Union clinging to this discredited and highly unpopular policy? Why can we not vaccinate our cows as we do our children?'. Of course, by now most of us embroiled in this issue know the answers:
a) We can’t vaccinate because it’s impossible to distinguish a vaccinated cow from an infected cow. Therefore cows can’t be exported as buyers won’t risk bringing bTB into their country. b) We can’t vaccinate because the EU won’t let us. Even last week Caroline Spelman, the ex-Defra Minister who brought in this cull, told me: ‘It would take years to change this – we’d have to go around every member state in Europe begging for a derogation.’
Earlier this month Brian, accompanied by Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, and a delegation from TeamBadger visited Brussels to find out why the EU would not allow the UK to vaccinate our cows. They were joined, at their request, by a representative from the NFU. Brian said; 'What we discovered is a bomb that will blow the idea of culling badgers out of the water for ever. We were warmly welcomed at the European Parliament by MEPs of all parties – 90% against culling wild animals, and 100% in favour of helping us make cattle vaccination in Britain happen'.
Next stop was the European Commission. Why, they asked Georg Haeusler, Chef de Cabinet for Agriculture, would the EU not let us vaccinate cows?
Brian said; 'He looked at us in surprise and said: ‘But this is not true. You British are welcome to. You would find it was not possible to sell cows into the mainland of Europe because we would be risking bringing bTB into our countries. But you do not export live cows to us anyway. It would be meat and milk and other ‘‘products’’ made from cattle that would be proscribed. But there would be no police descending on you if you began vaccinating tomorrow.’
In a telephone call between Brian and Georg later, discussing the procedure re introducing cattle vaccination, Brian asked; “Surely that would take years and years?” The reply was, “I know we have reputation for being slow, and sometimes that is justified, but if this case was put to the Commission, supported by letters from the MEPs, the relevant department would, realising the urgency of this request, push it through quickly. It might not be next week, but it is likely to be no more than a few months if the process is begun now. It would be ludicrous for us to stand in the way of such an urgent request. Why would we do that?”
So, there you have it. It has taken all these years to get to the truth but it is all coming out now and all because of the imminent threat to one of of the UK's best loved mammals.
PAC update dated 18/10/12 Is the badger cull about to be canned? Are the coalition government casting around for a way out - one which will let them kick the crazy policy into the very very long grass without maximum embarrassment? It certainly sounds that way from reports today.
Guardian - Cost of badger cull may force U turn - reports apparent omnipanic at Whitehall and Defra over the cull "Everyone in the department is scrambling with increasing desperation to make an unworkable policy work, so Paterson doesn't look like the failure David Cameron and Nick Clegg saw his predecessor Caroline Spelman as being." Paterson has been holding daily meetings on the cull." The number of badgers present in each of the cull area is apparently much higher than previously estimated and as the farmers involved have a payment per corpse contract with their marksmen, it will cost them a lot more than anticipated.
ITV News - Mixed messages on the cull - what's going on at Defra? - "A Government source told ITV News that the badger cull was about to be killed off - well, at least delayed for a year. A source at Defra told me that wasn't completely accurate but neither was it completely wrong......But then a call from Defra. No U-turn on badgers and no delay. The department hopes the cull in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset will go ahead "as soon as is practical". Of course that could still take some time."
18 Oct 2012, 6:06 PM
Badger Trust Press Release 'Liver fluke soars to disrupt test results'
As MPs prepare to debate badger killing next Thursday (October 25th) two developments show how bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is rooted in cattle.
· At least a fifth of cattle herds and possibly a half may be harbouring bovine tuberculosis (bTB) even after they are thought clear of infection, according to a Cambridge University research article . Worse, there is greater potential for TB to spread within the larger herds which are now becoming more prevalent. These conclusions further justify urgent introduction of cattle as well as badger vaccination
These conclusions emphasise that the effect of cattle-to-cattle contact is even greater than previously thought and so wildlife culling is even less significant.
· A second problem has been the massive increase in liver fluke which affects the accuracy of the standard test for bTB. This parasite is carried by snails and both thrive in warm, wet summers. Up to a third of cattle with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) could be missed by the standard test for the disease if they are also carrying the parasite, hampering the eradication programme according to research by Prof Diana Williams of Liverpool University . This carried forward work published in May last year by the Veterinary Sciences Division of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland .
The Badger Trust says both these revelations oblige the Coalition to abandon the killing of badgers until the comparatively enormous reservoir of disease in herds is cleared and to introduce compulsory annual testing of all cattle with the more sophisticated techniques now available such as the interferon-γ(IFN) . The killing of a protected wildlife species is even less relevant.
The Cambridge team estimates that there is a high rate of re-introduction particularly in high incidence areas. The authors add that the high rate of external infection, both through cattle movements and environmental sources, must be addressed if recurrence is to be reduced.
The team’s results are in line with the main conclusion of the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trial of 1998-2007: while badgers are implicated in bTb, killing them could make no meaningful contribution to its control, and that weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs. It added that in some parts of Britain cattle were likely to be the main source of infection and called for the rigid application of cattle-based control measures .
Culling badgers is a waste of public money in that it will cost far more than it saves, according to the latest BBC report (www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19981171).
The public costs of licensing and policing will exceed £1m in each pilot area, claims Prof John McInerney (the former member of the government's Independent Scientific Group on cattle TB). Shooting badgers is not a good deal in economic terms and when you take into account the research on the skin test out today (see previous post) then exactly why is the cull going ahead?
Professor John McInerney bases his estimates, which have not been published, on Defra's bovine TB impact assessment.
Based on culling in a 150 sq km zone (smaller than the pilot areas) over four years, he said the total costs amount to £1.55m.
Of this, £215,000 is the cost to farmers of paying for shooting the badgers, while the cost to the public purse for the likes of licensing and policing amounts to £1.335m. Assuming bovine TB falls by 16% over nine years (unlikely according to the most recent research), as estimates from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggest, the economic benefits will reach £972,000, McInerney says. This adds up to a net saving for the farmer (£215,000 cost vs £324,000 benefit) but a net cost to the public purse (£1.335m cost vs £648,000 saving).
"Overall it's not a good deal," Prof McInerney, emeritus professor of agricultural policy, University of Exeter, said. "It's a good deal for farmers, given how much they pay towards it, but it's a bad deal for taxpayers in strict economic terms."
He also added that the figures do not include any of the personal, social costs or stress, or the costs or value associated with badgers.
18 Oct 2012, 10:40 AM
We now have more Defra-funded) research (www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/scientists-build-a-clearer-picture-of-the-spread-of-bovine-tuberculosis/) to indicate that badger culling will be a waste of time and effort, as well as making farmers unpopular with the public. It also confirm just how unreliable the skin test is - the skin test is the backbone of the existing test/cull system currently used to 'eradicate' bTB.
Scientists at Cambridge have used mathematical tools to develop models for estimating the efficiency of cattle-based controls for bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
The models built by the team represent an advance over previous models as they are informed directly by extensive data on reported incidence and spread of the disease, rather than expert opinion. Importantly, they provide a first estimate of the quantity of infection missed by cattle testing and the contribution of this hidden burden of infection to the persistence of bTB within herds.
Applied to recent data, the models suggest that around one in five of British herds that have been cleared of restrictions, following testing for bTB, may harbour the infection. It also points to a higher incidence, and faster spread, of the disease in large herds. The research focuses on the cattle-to-cattle transmission of bTB within herds.
“Many aspects of bTB, and its transmission, remain a mystery – and it’s long been known that the protocol and testing methods used to diagnose the disease are far from perfect. One of our models suggests that up to 21 per cent of herds may be harbouring infection after being cleared from movement restrictions,” said James Wood, Alborada Professor of Equine and Farm Animal Science at Cambridge University.
“However, our models also estimate a high rate of re-introduction of infection into herds, particularly in high incidence areas. This rate of re-infection is high enough that even if improvements in testing eliminated the hidden burden of infection, rates of recurrence would not be reduced.”