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?
18 Oct 2012, 6:44 PM
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.”
17 Oct 2012, 8:56 PM
Perhaps the farmers have interfered with their badger setts and are scared of being found out?
17 Oct 2012, 8:51 PM
It is understood that some farmers in the North Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area are unhappy that the Welsh government dropped its plan to cull badgers. Apparently there are 13 farmers in the IAA that are not allowing access to their farms. Officials are vaccinating badgers in the area as part of a WAG-funded, bovine TB initiative. Farmers can opt out according to the WAG's chief vet. Interestingly landowners, under the previous administration's proposal to cull all the badgers in the IAA, were being forced to give access - or maybe WAG learnt a lesson from this. It is odd that the farmers are refusing access. Surely if they are that concerned about bTB they are willing to try vaccination?
Info from www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/17/10/2012/135781/Farmers-deny-access-to-badger-vaccination-zones.htm
In the same article an NFU representative admitted that vaccination "undoubtedly has a role to play" in eradicating bovine TB but then he added "not the appropriate intervention in an area of Wales where a significant proportion of badgers are already suffering from this disease". He knows this does he? All figures we have read have indicated that only a small percentage of the badgers have bTB.
Info from: www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/17/10/2012/135781/Farmers-deny-access-to-badger-vaccination-zones.htm
17 Oct 2012, 6:29 PM
www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/17/badger-cull-science-cows-tuberculosis?newsfeed=true Leo Hickman of the Guardian sets out his conclusion to the Guardian debate today between several eminent scientists.
'The debate about the badger cull has become so fraught and emotional - understandably so - that it seems it is becoming ever harder for advocates on both sides of the argument to analyse the science that underpins it with a clear, calm head. Identifying the "victor" is a real challenge: is it policy-based evidence, or evidence-based policy?'
'But having pored through the evidence today, I find it hard to come to any other conclusion that the evidence put forward by the cull advocates - notably Defra and the NFU - just isn't strong enough to justify the current policy. Rather, it seems far too selective and fudged in its approach to be persuasive. Sadly, it bears all the hallmarks of a ministry led by the personal opinions of the politician in charged, as opposed to the expert scientists it consults.'
'Bovine tuberculosis is clearly a harrowing disease for all concerned, but pushing forward with a policy, when so much of the supporting evidence seems weak, tangential and/or cherry-picked, appears ill-advised.'
'My colleague Damian Carrington summed it up very well: "No-one knows whether the 16% reduction in cattle infections will materialise: it's a big gamble."'
'Indeed, I believe the stakes are too high - and the odds too unsettled - to risk seeing whether this badger cull works in its current form.'
16 Oct 2012, 7:47 PM
I wanted you to be the first to know that, thanks in huge part to your hard work, there is due to be a fresh debate in Parliament about the Government’s plans to cull badgers. MPs will also be asked to vote on this motion:
That 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 alongside a comprehensive biosecurity policy with immediate effect.
I was instrumental in securing the debate and one of a cross party group of 5 MP that persuaded the backbench business committee to allocate parliamentary time, following on from a hugely successful e-petition. I will be speaking in the debate and calling once again for the pilot culls to be halted and for alternatives like vaccination to be the priority in the fight against bovine TB.
Do let me know if you need any further information.
Best wishes, Caroline
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion House of Commons London SW1A 0AA
15 Oct 2012, 6:40 PM
According to Prof John Bourne, stricter measures to stop cows spreading tuberculoisis to other cows are the only way to combat the disease effectively, as they had in the 1960s when TB was virtually eradicated in England. "Despite some improvements, the government is still going nowhere near far enough with biosecurity", he said. "It is not badgers that spread the disease throughout the country; it is cattle".
The most recent European commission inspection of England's biosecurity uncovered a catalogue of failures , including missed targets in the rapid removal of infected cattle with TB and "weaknesses in disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels".
Another eminent scientist and former government scientific adviser, Lord Robert May, pointed to vaccination as an important tool in tackling TB, which Welsh ministers have backed after abandoning their cull plans. "What is particularly irritating is that we have the vaccines in the pipeline, but the commitment to really go in and test them is really not there," he said. The coalition cancelled five of the six trials of injectable badger vaccines on taking office.
Bourne said: "The real reason for the cull is that politicians are desperate and I think farmers have been hoodwinked for years."
He said key differences between his team's methodology and the government's cull, including a very different killing method and much longer killing period, were significant: "It could make TB a damn sight worse."
Bourne was one of dozens of senior scientists who demanded the "mindless" government cull be halted in a letter to the Observer on Sunday and accused ministers of misusing the science. Ministers claimed the science has moved on since the decade-long trial ended in 2007. But Lord John Krebs, the architect of the trial, rejected this: "That is simply not true."
Krebs said he was puzzled at the zeal of the National Farmers' Union for the cull: "Their President Peter Kendall is going to have a lot of angry farmers on his hands in three-four years' time, saying we have spent a lot of money on the cull but we still have TB."
Info from: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/15/badger-cull-government-accused?newsfeed=true
"Campaigners opposed to the badger cull planned in western England say they have secured a debate in the House of Commons against it and are planning a million-strong march on Westminster.
Brian May, the Queen guitarist, will lead the protest outside parliament on the day of the debate.
This weekend another Conservative questions the cull - Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, whose constituency is close to one of the cull zones, came out against the policy, saying he found it “difficult to justify”..."
15 Oct 2012, 5:56 PM
Dave Purser owns a 48ha pasture farm in Glos. He comes from a local farming family and has kept his own cattle since the 1980′s in a TB ‘hot-spot’. The business has included a commercial beef and calf rearing unit but the herd has never been under TB2 restrictions. Here he gives his views on the bovine TB problems.
I've kept cattle in a Gloucestershire 'TB hot-spot' since the 80's so I'm no stranger to the rigmarole of annual bTB testing. But the dread I feel at testing time comes from the threat posed by Defra's 'test and cull' policy rather than concern about the disease itself.
In every other instance where disease threatens our cattle, we have vaccination in our armoury. We know that vaccines reduce the incidence of disease in our cattle and this gives us scope to use our own skills to manage the health and welfare of our herds to suit our particular circumstances.
We are only denied this essential approach with bTB because of an outdated EU directive governing export which insists on 'accelarated eradication' of the disease and simultaneously bans the use of cattle vaccine, which predictably leads to carnage in all directions.
We are a well informed society, especially since the advent of the internet, so even the casual observer can see that the answer to this issue is to challenge the EU and get the rules changed to allow cattle vaccine - hence the huge and justifiable public outcry in opposition to a massacre of our badgers.
It's not good enough these days for those in favour of the cull to use sensational headlines and hope the public will simply accept what they read.
"26000 cattle were slaughtered in 2011 for TB control" - yes, but Defra's own figures tell you that there were 5.4million cattle in England in 2011*. This is a loss of less than half a percent of the national herd which is easily outnumbered by those cattle routinely slaughtered every year because of ailments such as lameness, mastitis etc.
"11.5% of herds were restricted in 2011" - yes, in other words, 88.5% of herds were NOT restricted in 2011 demonstrating that only a small proportion of herds are affected by bTB.
And restricted herds can carry on trading despite TB restrictions, as described in detail on the website of the TB Farm Advisory Service at http://www.southwest-tbadvice.co.uk/ which includes case studies showing the many options available.
So facts, figures and science show that bTB is not "the main threat to the cattle industry" but is actually a problem for a minority of herds, mostly in the West country. Cases of bTB have not risen dramatically, there is no epidemic, there is nothing different about 2012 to explain any hysteria so there is simply no justification for the rush to shoot badgers now.
The NFU, NBA and other farming bodies should avoid a PR disaster by abandoning the badger cull and start putting their weight behind forming an accreditation scheme under which UK farmers can be given the option of vaccinating their cattle and each animal's passport can be stamped to show that they are then excluded from export.
Members of the scheme could be exempted from the 'test and cull' policy which would give the pedigree and dairy herds an opportunity to avoid the needless slaughter of their breeding stock and protect their gene pools by using vaccination and accreditation instead.
The scheme wouldn't have to include all counties because we can't expect farmers in the two, three and four year testing areas, who form the the vast majority of herds in the country, to share the burden with those of us in the 'hot-spots'.
But before the doom merchants say it can't be done, let's remember that this approach isn't new. It's exactly how we eradicated brucellosis, another infectious cattle disease, some twenty odd years ago**. Aren't we meant to get wiser with age?
'Exposed: the Ministers of Muddle' says the Badger Trust in its latest press release.
31 leading scientists condemn ‘costly distraction’ of badger culling while David Cameron and Owen Paterson are trying to justify the pointless slaughter
The scientists’ main points, published in The Observer on 14th October 2012  are:
· Cattle TB deserves the highest standard of evidence-based management · Licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it. · The government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the costs · Imminent pilot culls are too slight to measure impacts before wider roll-outs · Badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control. · Culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication · ‘We therefore urge the government to reconsider its strategy’.
David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust said: “This powerful testimony should be the death knell of badger culling. Vaccination is now possible for both cattle and badgers and should be implemented as soon as possible as it is in Wales for badgers. The Coalition should concentrate all its energies on persuading Europe to demolish the restrictions on the use of established science and techniques for cattle vaccination. Mexico among others is vaccinating already with field trials continuing elsewhere, but even those would be illegal in the UK.
“For the Coalition to fly in the face of scientific knowledge of this stature may be wily politics, but as logic it is more like lunacy. How can this be a science based badger cull, as claimed by the Government and DEFRA? The Government's chief scientist is among those who dispute evidence used to justify killings, which may begin imminently, as reported in Damian Carrington’s latest article .”
Re bit below on 12/10/12 comment which says ''Many campaigners apparently suspect the reasons for the culls going ahead as being partly due a caving in by the Coalition government to blood-sport enthusiasts...' There is more evidence of such cruelty in Daily Mail yesterday reporting that middle-class professionals such as doctors and dentists are betting on cockfights. It seems cockfighting is gaining in popularity - despite it being illegal in UK. The organisation raised concerns about the growing trend after raiding two farms where inspectors found 500 birds, including 97 mature fighting cocks, and metal spurs that are used as weapons.Mark Giles and his son, also called Mark, have pleaded guilty to animal cruelty at the properties they ran in Billingshurst, West Sussex, and will be sentenced by Brighton magistrates on Wednesday..
14 Oct 2012, 6:35 PM
'Badger cull 'mindless', say scientists', shouts the headline in the Guardian yesterday (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/13/badger-cull-mindless). Damming indeed when the Government is claiming that the two trial culls are science-led.
The article follows on from a letter ttop animal disease scientists had published in the Observer recently. BIn it they launched a devastating attack on the government's 'mindless' badger cull, accusing ministers of failing to tell the truth and demanding the immediate abandonment of the killings. The government's own chief scientist has refused to back the killings.
More than 30 eminent animal disease experts describe the cull as a 'costly distraction' that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.
However, the scientists reject the idea of scientific support for the cull, which could wipe out 100,000 badgers, a third of the national population. The cull policy is 'mindless', according to Lord John Krebs, one of the UK's most eminent scientists and the architect of the landmark 10-year culling trials that ended in 2007. '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.'
Another signatory, Lord Robert May, a former government chief scientist and president of the Royal Society, said: 'It is very clear to me that the government's policy does not make sense.' He added: 'I have no sympathy with the decision. They are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.'
The current government chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, refused to back the cull. Asked if it could make a meaningful contribution to tackling TB in cattle, he said: 'I continue to engage with Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] on the evidence base concerning the development of bovine TB policy. I am content that the evidence base, including uncertainties and evidence gaps, has been communicated effectively to ministers.'
A Defra spokesman said: 'The leading experts Defra brought together in April 2011 agreed that the evidence shows that culling done in the right way can reduce the spread of the disease to cattle, with benefits remaining for many years. The culling policy has been developed to maximise the benefits shown in previous trials, and to minimise the impact of badgers spreading disease beyond the cull area by including hard boundaries such as motorways and rivers.'
However, scientists say the two-page document produced by the April meeting does not support the cull. Professor Rosie Woodroffe, of the Zoological Society of London, said: 'The document simply does not endorse the policy.'
The scientists, whose letter is also being sent to Paterson, claim scientific opinion in the UK is overwhelmingly against the cull. 'I just don't know anyone who is really informed who thinks this is a good idea,' said Professor John Bourne, who led the decade-long trial.
The scientists reject other statements from ministers and even David Cameron, who said last week: "I believe this is the right policy for healthy badgers as well as healthy cattle."
Woodroffe pointed to research showing that just 14% of badgers in previous culls had TB and just one in a hundred had severe symptoms. 'Furthermore, all the evidence shows that culling badgers increases the proportion of badgers that have TB,' she said.
In a separate development, nine leading vets have written an open letter, co-ordinated by the Humane Society, to Defra and Natural England. They warn that the shooting permitted by the cull licences 'will inevitably result in the targeting of many pregnant sows and, if culling extends towards the end of the open season, could result in the shooting of lactating sows, leading to the starvation of dependent cubs'.
The letter can be read at www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2012/oct/14/letters-observer
12 Oct 2012, 6:16 PM
As the badger culling start date looms the media have carried many reports, mainly about the massive public opposition to the proposed shooting and evident strength of feeling among those who are opposed to the policy.
Ardent opposer of the cull, Brian May, is currently in Brussels to campaign for cattle vaccinations as a humane alternative to the slaughter. He is campaigning hard for a change in the law to allow the use of the BCG vaccination, due to be licensed soon for cattle. He is joined by Gavin Grant, RSPCA Chief Executive. Brian established Teambadger which brings together all the leading UK animal charities opposing the cull.
Brian and Gavin are meeting a range of European officials and parliamentarians, including figures from the European Environment and Agriculture directorates general. Brian May said: “What is absolutely clear from the available scientific evidence is that vaccination of cattle and badgers, along with bio-security and movement controls in the farming industry, is the only way to make meaningful progress.”
"As far as badger culling is concerned it has nothing to offer in terms of controlling TB in cattle, and could indeed make the situation worse" was the emphatic, and damning, conclusion reached by Professor John Bourne, the man charged with assessing the biggest and most comprehensive scientific experiment ever conducted in the British countryside - the Randomized Badger Culling Trials, or RBCT, in June 2007.
In the meantime prominent scientists question the cull. Lord John Krebs at the University of Oxford (he headed the team that carried out the Randomised Badger Culling Trials), calls the cull 'crazy' and says: "The pilot cull is flawed because it aims to remove 70% of badgers without an accurate estimate of the starting number". He has accused ministers of 'cherry picking' from his results to justify the programme. "I'm certainly not impressed with the current policy," he said. He said it smacks of fitting the facts to the answer you want to achieve in the first place, 'I have to say I've not found any scientists who are experts in population biology or the distribution of infectious disease in wildlife who think that culling is a good idea. People seem to have cherry picked certain results to try and get the argument they want'.
Christl Donnelly, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, who was also a member of the team that performed the original trials has reservations too; 'Is it worth culling so many animals for 16% fewer infected herds? There, you get very different answers depending who you ask.'
Responding, Farm Minister, David Heath said it was a 'little disrespectful' of those scientists who followed up previous trials to 'simply say that their work is not effective'. A pretty pathetic response.
Many campaigners apparently suspect the reasons for the culls going ahead as being partly due a caving in by the Coalition government to blood-sport enthusiasts - who like nothing more than running around at night shooting helpless wild animals. We should remember that badgers were tormented for generations in England by blood sports enthusiasts until the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 made badger baiting illegal. UK animal welfare charities report a resurgence of this illegal barbaric practice in recent years, along with an increase of animal cruelty in general.
'Yes, better testing cuts bTB'—Defra. So scrap the cull! says the Badger Trust.
New figures issued by Defra show a marked drop in bovine TB levels. And it’s mostly down to increased testing, something that the Badger Trust and independent scientists have demanded for years.
Defra, the Government department which continues to justify the planned prolonged slaughter of tens of thousands of badgers, says in its latest monthly bovine TB briefing (1):
“There has been a notable decrease in the incidence rate over the past six months, mainly as a result of an increased number of tests on unrestricted herds compared to last year. The provisional June 2012 incidence rate is 4.2 per cent, compared to 6.0 per cent in June 2011.”
Combined with previous figures that equates to a 30per cent decline in 12 months, says the Badger Trust. That’s twice the 12-16 per cent reduction achieved in the RBCT (randomised badger culling trials) over nine years and 10 times faster than the Government’s predicted reductions from the planned badger culls.
Yes, the figures are provisional, says the Trust, but the Defra statement is unequivocal—increased testing works, and it appears to be dramatic in its effect. So why this unseemly rush to slaughter badgers? This very encouraging trend dramatically undermines the Government’s justification for a widely condemned policy.
Independent scientific opinion is almost universally critical—Lord Krebs described the culls as crazy. Public opposition is overwhelmingly opposed. Wildlife experts, among them Sir David Attenborough, Simon King, Chris Packham and Bill Oddie, have all called for the culls to be scrapped. Badger Trust has repeatedly argued that the culls are driven not by robust science, as the Government claims, but by politics and the power and influence of the farming unions.
Says Badger Trust chairman David Williams: “Defra’s conclusion that the improved results are down to better testing are very telling. Publicly they attempt to justify an unprecedented slaughter of a protected animal. At the same time, tucked away in a dull routine report, they admit in effect that way back in 2007, the ISG (the Independent Scientific Group) got it right when they said, after 10 years of research, that the way to bring the spread of bTB under control was not by killing badgers but by toughening up cattle-based measures.
“The ISG highlighted the frailties of the existing testing system; urged much tighter controls over the movement of cattle from bTB hotspots; and said improved biosecurity on farms would help control the disease. Culling badgers would make no meaningful contribution.
“The Government’s response has been wretched: minimal action on the true causes of the disease, and an unholy rush to kill and scapegoat badgers. The culls should be scrapped, cattle management controls should be much more rigorous; the clear advantages of badger vaccination should be implemented; and every ounce of energy put into making cattle vaccination achievable. Protesting that a cattle vaccine may be years away isn’t good enough. The claimed benefits from badger culling are only 12-16 per cent over nine years.”
Defra’s abject failings the key to bTB spread—Badger Trust
The Coalition’s decision to authorise the slaughter of badgers is a frank admission of failure on their part, says the Badger Trust. Environment ministers and their departmental aides are quick to cherry pick bits of science that appear to support their case. But the public is being deliberately misled. The Coalition remains silent and evasive on the real issue: cattle management, and their own continuing abject failure to impose, through DEFRA, the kind of tough, effective, long-term remedial measures spelt out by independent scientists, following 10 years of peer-reviewed research .
If—and it’s a big if—says the Trust, the proposed night-time rifle-fire slaughter of tens of thousands of an iconic and protected animal goes ahead, the Government forecasts only a 12-16 per cent drop over NINE years in bovine TB in cattle. Self-evidently that means bTB won’t be solved. Self evidently that can only mean that cattle are the main vectors and that the bulk of the problem—that untouched 84 per cent—is being ignored or unreasonably delayed.
Ministers protest loud and long that something must be done to control this highly infectious respiratory disease, says Badger Trust. But the blame for inaction lies squarely with them. They appeal for calm; they protest that culling is unavoidable. But when it comes to tackling the root causes of the disease they fail the farming community, the public—who are forced to pay farmers a huge annual compensation bill—and of, course, wildlife.
The EU’s recently published audit of UK measures to control bovine TB highlighted a catalogue of failings, all of them the responsibility of DEFRA and the farming industry: they ranged from inadequate disease prevention measures, numerous cattle movement derogations, test exemptions, and failures to remove reactors (diseased cattle) quickly enough.
The ISG for its part emphasised the dangers of disease spread centred on the buying and selling of cattle from farms in TB hotspots but the Government—confronted by massive lobbying from politically supportive farming interests—have barely reacted. Very belatedly they recently introduced long overdue pre-movement test controls over linked holdings. Until then farmers had been able to freely move cattle from one area to another, sometimes hundreds of miles.
There’s a hint that in the New Year more might be done. But why the delay? Why the dithering? Why the rush to slaughter badgers? It’s time the Government was honest with its voters and the tens of thousands of committed conservationists who have actively voiced their horror and disgust at the proposed slaughter of the badger, a slaughter which the Government admits could worsen bovine TB spread.
The time for weasel words and departmental spin is long gone, says Badger Trust. Britain’s farmers are being let down by a Government that weakly refuses to tackle the root causes of bovine TB. And that weakness has also put the health and future of an iconic animal at stake.
Badgers: Prime Minister’s claims “absurd” says Badger Trust.
Claims by Prime Minister David Cameron and newly appointed Environment Secretary Owen Paterson that the planned slaughter of badgers will lead to a healthier species, are absurd, says the Badger Trust and should be withdrawn and binned.
Speaking to news reporters covering the Conservative annual conference Mr Cameron said he was convinced a cull of badgers to tackle bovine tuberculosis in cattle was the right thing to do and he went on “…I believe this is the right policy for healthy badgers as well as healthy cattle.”
Addressing the conference Mr Paterson said the disease would get worse if the Coalition followed the “cowardly inaction” pursued by Labour in government. “We have to use every tool at our disposal and that’s why we’re trialling a badger cull. We need healthy wildlife living alongside healthy cattle.”
Both claims are patently absurd, says the Badger Trust. The pilot culls and the planned subsequent prolonged culls are non selective and will destroy mostly healthy local badger populations. That is beyond question.
It is not possible to take out only diseased animals. The indisputable facts are that thousands of healthy badgers making no contribution to disease spread will die or be critically wounded. The research the Government cherry picks to try to justify its onslaught on badgers shows that even in TB hotspots most badgers are not infected .
What’s more, that same exhaustive programme of research (the Randomised Badger Culling Trials overseen by the Independent Scientific Group) concluded that the prevalence of disease in badgers which survived the culls was HIGHER than before the culls began.
David Williams, Badger Trust chairman, commented: “It beggars belief that the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary can claim that culling is in some way good for badgers, that killing them by the thousand will somehow result in healthy badger populations. Let them explain how they have reached this astonishing conclusion, one that the Prime Minster also made on Countryfile. If they can’t, and we are sure they will be unable to, they should apologise--the Prime Minster, through the aides who have briefed him so badly, and Mr Paterson because he must know better.
“With every passing week the case put forward for a badger cull is collapsing around the Government’s ears. They should listen, think again and abandon this provocative counter-productive plan, one that Lords Krebs described as crazy.”
 ISG final report 2007. The overall prevalence of M. Bovis infection in proactively culled badgers was 16.6 per cent and in road killed badgers 15 per cent.
Source: Press Release from Badger Trust dated 10/10/12
10 Oct 2012, 2:22 PM
A row has brewed over the use of a photo of a badger on a the front page of the Countryfile calendar. (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9525945/Row-as-BBC-chooses-badger-photo-for-Countryfile-calendar.html)
This is when one knows the whole situation has got ridiculously out of hand. The badger is still an iconic mammal of our countryside. It is an indigenous species that is much loved by the British public - as witnessed by the overwhelmingly opposition to the proposed trial culls. Why shouldn't it be shown in a calendar? I doubt those pushing so hard for the cull of badgers would have objected if photos of cattle had been used.
8 Oct 2012, 6:56 PM
'Cull is state-backed vandalism', says the Badger Trust in a press release received today and reproduced below..
The country’s leading badger conservation charity today publicly rejected the dual threat of extremism by activists and what it sees as state-backed vandalism –an unscientific, counter-productive badger slaughter.
As rumours mounted that a pilot cull of thousands of badgers could start within days in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset, the Badger Trust said it was absolutely opposed to illegal action and threats of violence against farming families. But it also described the impending cull as Government backed vandalism which flies in the face of public opinion and overwhelming and utterly persuasive independent scientific opinion.
The Government’s own forecasts –a possible 12-16 per cent reduction over nine years--are a frank admission that slaughtering tens of thousands of badgers will barely dent, let alone solve, the bovine TB problem, says the Trust.
“The predictions confirm what the country’s top scientists have argued repeatedly: cattle not badgers are the problem. There are of the order of eight and half million cattle in the UK. Ineffective testing, inadequate controls over cattle movement, and a virtual rejection of biosecurity (disease control) measures by the farmers who nonetheless claim millions in compensation are the main causes of bovine TB spread. The Government knows that. And what is it doing about it? Very little. To justify a badger cull the Government promised the country a balanced package of science-led measures. It has cherry-picked bits of the science it liked and ignored almost everything else.
“On the one hand it says something must be done and quickly. On the other it admits bTB is a complex disease that will take decades to bring under control. Scientists said that to stand any chance of working culling had to be simultaneous, in its terms over a couple of weeks. The Government plans instead a six-week cull, possibly longer.
“In choosing badger vaccination over wholesale non-selective slaughter the Welsh Assembly has got it right; meanwhile their rigorous cattle management controls continue. Scotland is TB free and it does not cull badgers. The Republic of Ireland has slaughtered thousands of badgers and still has a major bTB problem.”
“The meagre claimed benefits from badger culling will take nine years. Viewed in that timescale a cattle vaccine—the near ultimate solution—is not far off. So why this vindictive rush? No wonder that we, and countless thousands of voters, see badger culling as unjustified, counter-productive politically inspired wildlife vandalism. With every passing day the cull is exposed as nothing more than a trumped up excuse to win political favour with farming voters and big business agricultural interests. The fact that thousands of iconic animals will die in the planned pilot culls tells us how little regard the pro-cull protagonists have for wildlife and how vacuous and deceitful the Government’s science-led claims are.”
8 Oct 2012, 1:50 PM
According to the latest media reports farmers who participate in the pilot badger culls may be subjected to the following actions from those protesting against the culls.
Loud noises and bright lights. Citizen arrests if badger cull licenses are not revealed. Squatting of barns and farm buildings. Farmers will be named and shamed if they are not complying with bio-security or animal welfare rules.
In addition pressure has also been put on farmers by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has said farmers supporting the cull will be denied the Freedom Foods endorsement that their produce is ethically sourced.
6 Oct 2012, 6:52 PM
McGill I, Menache A, Knight A, Allen C, Hill S & Eastwood B. Simultaneous vaccination ‘best way’ to tackle bTB. Letter to Vet Times [UK] 2012; 42(38): 35.
We are all veterinary surgeons - either clinicians or scientists - and are dismayed that there is a very real prospect that this government will pursue a cull of badgers.
The report of DEFRA’s own Independent Scientific Group (ISG)1 which was set up to look at the issue, states in the conclusions of its £50 million research project: "Careful evaluation of our own and others' data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain."
Despite this weighty opinion to the contrary, the Coalition has chosen to cherry pick data that supports the need to cull badgers - a policy that, in our opinion, is flawed on many levels.
The cull would cause untold suffering to the unfortunate badgers targeted in this massacre, and would result in additional suffering due to resultant ecosystem imbalances. Bovine TB reduction is likely to be very small at best, and in some areas may actually increase1. Attempting to remove the major carnivore from a local ecosystem by shooting, not only encourages badger movements into neighbouring areas and then back again1, it would also disturb the population numbers and increase movement of other species such as foxes, deer, rats, voles, mice and birds, which potentially also carry TB2,3 thus furthering its spread.
We do have to question as to whether a thorough Disease Risk Analysis has been properly carried out on shooting large numbers of potentially TB infected animals in the same vicinity. Far from removing the threat of TB, it is entirely possible that the contamination of the land with TB bacteria will simply further its spread into other wildlife, and ultimately, dairy cows.
We are dismayed that the heads of veterinary organisations such as the BVA and BCVA have made statements supportive of the cull, and feel that this gives a misleading impression as to the views of the veterinary profession as a whole. The veterinary profession is almost entirely composed of individuals who care a great deal about animal welfare, and who, in general, respect wild animals and their right to live wherever possible unabused by humans.
Solving the problem of TB in the UK will require study of the mode of transmission to naturally infected cows. In particular the genetics of resistance to TB in the dairy herd needs to be further elucidated. Breeding preferentially for milk yield via artificial insemination (AI) has undoubtedly had some adverse impacts on the genotype of the cow in other respects4,5,6, as natural selection is no longer operant. The susceptibility of most of the dairy herd to BSE, for example, was largely due to the paucity of genetic variation in the PrP gene, which controls susceptibility to BSE7,8. Indeed, evidence suggests that the BSE agent actually arose de novo from mutated PrP genes in the dairy herd9. When this BSE agent was delivered into the food supply by the recycling of cattle offal back into cattle food, the catastrophic results were all too predictable - for cows, for farmers, for consumers, and for the UK. Have we learned nothing from that debacle?
Infectious agents and their hosts tend to adapt or co-evolve together such that a balance is formed between infection, immunity and survival, and this is demonstrably true for TB10,11. In badgers, this balance with TB has happened across millennia. Dairy cows stopped co-evolving with TB more than 50 years ago, due to AI. The only thing dairy cows have co-evolved with, is human will, industrial economic policy - and money.
We need to start implementing the outbreeding of dairy cows to introduce some heterozygosity, or hybrid vigour, back into these unfortunate creatures, before they become the ticking bio time bomb that intensification, and a breeding programme based on AI, could result in.
It is a disgrace that the veterinary profession would even consider a cull of badgers when there are alternative strategies for the long term, such as vaccination, which haven't been tried on any large scale. This, rather than slaughter, is the preferred method for the control of TB in humans. Perish the thought that the medical profession would choose to follow the same medieval control methods as the veterinary profession. Both cattle and badgers should be vaccinated, in our view, to give such a trial the best chance of success. The ISG recommended that a vaccine for cattle should be a priority1.
For the long term, putting a sticking plaster over one running sore, when there are metaphorical sores breaking out all over the dairy industry, will not, in our view, resolve the problem. The problems need to be tackled at their fundamental root - and that is the way that the dairy industry has evolved during the past 60 years. Since the 1950s, AI has been used to selectively breed mutant cows which produce large quantities of milk, but which evidently have little resistance to diseases such as TB and BSE. The fact that any herds with cattle showing detectable immunity to TB (TB reactors) are summarily slaughtered, further increases the immunological naivety of the herd.
The economic pressures brought to bear have recently brought the value of milk down below the cost of production, further pressuring farmers and cows, and compounding the problem. Intervention by the Government to protect small-scale milk producers financially, would alleviate many welfare issues in cattle brought on by sheer poverty - of both small farmers and cattle. TB is often a disease of poverty, in humans as well as animals, and many of our dairy cattle live in poverty equivalent to that of a workhouse during the industrial revolution. Most importantly, there is poverty in the lack of any normal relationships around breeding and calf rearing. The only long-term solution is a paradigm shift in favour of cattle welfare, small farmers and wildlife - not mega-dairies and money. We need to start looking, right now, at the economic and genetic background to the dairy industry, and fix it, before it's too late.
We support the long term restructuring and de-intensification of the dairy industry to better support the health and welfare of cattle, as well as that of small farmers and consumers. This would go some way to help to ensure a more natural, less pressured life for the dairy cow.
We wish to register a view that we believe represents the majority of our profession. We the undersigned do not support a badger cull. The widespread shooting of a protected indigenous species like the badger would be brutal, misguided, foolish, disgraceful, expensive and potentially counter-productive.
We believe that a simultaneous vaccination programme, for both cattle and badgers, would be the best solution to protect animal and human health.
Iain McGill BSc(Hons), BVetMed, MRCVS Andre Menache BSc(Hons), BVSc, MRCVS Andrew Knight BSc(Vet Biol), BVMS, CertAW, DipECAWBM(WSEL), PhD, MRCVS, FOCAE Caroline Allen MA, VetMB, CertSAM, MRCVS Sophie Hill BA(Open), MA (Cantab), VetMB, PGCE, MRCVS Bronwen Eastwood BSc(Hons), BVetMed, MRCVS
1. DEFRA. Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence. Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. June 2007.
2. Hardstaff JL, Bulling MT, Marion G, Hutchings MR, White PC. Impact of external sources of infection on the dynamics of bovine tuberculosis in modelled badger populations. BMC Vet Res 2012 Jun 27;8(1):92.
3.Chambers MA. Review of the diagnosis and study of tuberculosis in non-bovine wildlife species using immunological methods. Transbound Emerg Dis 2009 Aug;56(6-7):215-27.
4. Stachowicz K, Sargolzaei M, Miglior F, Schenkel FS. Rates of inbreeding and genetic diversity in Canadian Holstein and Jersey cattle. J Dairy Sci 2011 Oct;94(10):5160-75.
5. Hinrichs D, Thaller G. Pedigree analysis and inbreeding effects on calving traits in large dairy herds in Germany. J Dairy Sci 2011 Sep;94(9):4726-33.
6. Nino-Soto MI, Heriazón A, Quinton M, Miglior F, Thompson K, Mallard BA. Differential gene expression of high and low immune responder Canadian Holstein dairy cows. Dev Biol 2008;132:315-20. 7. Goldmann W, Hunter N, Martin KN, Dawson M and Hope J. Different forms of the bovine PrP gene have five or six copies of a short, G-C-rich element within the protein-coding exon. J General Virology 1991; 72: 201-204.
8. Juling K, Schwarzenbacher H, Williams JL, Fries R. A major genetic component of BSE susceptibility. BMC Biol 2006 Oct 2;4:33. 9. Nicholson EM, Brunelle BW, Richt JA, Kehrli ME, Greenlee JJ. Identification of a Heritable Polymorphism in Bovine PRNP Associated with Genetic Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy: Evidence of Heritable BSE. PLoS ONE 2008; 3(8): e2912.
10. Dorhoi A, Reece ST, Kaufmann SH. For better or for worse: the immune response against Mycobacterium tuberculosis balances pathology and protection. Immunol Rev 2011 Mar;240(1):235-51.
11. Gagneux S. Host-pathogen coevolution in human tuberculosis. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2012 Mar 19;367(1590):850-9.
5 Oct 2012, 6:37 PM
KEY TB REPORT CONDEMNS WEAKNESSES AND FRAGMENTED CATTLE CONTROLS - PRESS RELEASE FROM BADGER TRUST dated 5/10/12
The Badger Trust circulates the keynote report summarised below which provides authoritative and independent support for its conviction that the UK agricultural industry is failing to observe tuberculosis restrictions imposed in its own interests.
There can now be no reasonable justification for slaughtering more than 100,000 badgers – a protected species – while such examples of mismanagement and even corruption are allowed to continue.
The final report of an audit carried out in the United Kingdom in September last year to evaluate the operation of the bovine tuberculosis eradication programme  concludes that the disease situation overall in GB is at best static and may be deteriorating in England.
However, the audit is at odds with the conclusion of the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) of 1998-2007. The audit says wildlife culling is a significant element of the approved eradication programme, and that the lack of it remains the major obstacle to progress. However the RBCT report allowed that badgers were implicated but said categorically that killing them could make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control . It added: “Weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone”.
David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “The idea of culling is an outdated prejudice when the real problem, as it always has been, is cattle. The audit highlights the scandal of overdue tests and the need for prompt removal of infected cattle and inconclusive reactors from farms. "The group has clearly spent much time and effort on the cattle aspects, but has not re-investigated matters concerning badgers to the same degree, leading to a lack of balance. The reference to the delay in culling as a 'major' obstacle is grossly overstated”.
The executive summary in full:
The objectives of the audit were to assess the application of the national programme for eradication of bovine tuberculosis approved and co-funded by the European Union (EU), and compliance with EU rules related to the disease.
Official controls related to bovine tuberculosis, and the operation of the programme have been given a high priority by Government (it represents over 40% of the DEFRA animal health budget). Nonetheless, despite efforts to date, the disease situation overall in GB is at best static and may be deteriorating in England.
While the approved eradication programme is broadly applied as described, the audit identified a number of potential weaknesses. These include numerous movement derogations, pre-movement test exemptions (including extended time intervals between testing and movement), the operation of "linked" holdings over large geographical areas, incomplete herd testing and the operation of specialist units under restriction, which lacked the necessary bio-security arrangements.
Furthermore, despite efforts by the CA [competent authority] some of their key targets could not be met in relation to the removal of reactors from breakdown herds and the instigation of epidemiological enquiries.
There is a fragmented system of controls, involving a number of responsible bodies. This combined with a lack of co-ordination (particularly with Local Authorities) makes it difficult to ensure that basic practices to prevent infection/spread of disease (such as effective cleaning and disinfection of vehicles and markets) are carried out in a satisfactory way.
Many of the weaknesses have been identified by the CA, and enhanced controls have been incorporated into a pilot area (intensive action area in Wales) where the CA has removed movement test exemptions, "broken" links, increased test frequencies and sought to improve biosecurity by formal education of animal keepers. The CA will assess the lessons learned from this area, to determine whether the measures could be applied more widely in Wales and England.
Measures to prevent re-infection from other sources focus on the risk presented by wildlife (badgers). The CA maintains that the delay in implementing the proposed wildlife controls (i.e. a managed cull of badgers), which is a significant element of the approved eradication programme, remains the major obstacle to progress. Recommendations were made to the UK CA to address the shortcomings described in this report.
Interesting Guardian blog by Damian Carrington (www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2012/oct/05/badger-cull-tb-cattle?newsfeed=true). It relates to the recent figures that reveal a reduction in bTB breakdowns in England. He asks:
'Is a belated tightening of measures to stop bovine TB spreading between cattle starting to bear down on the disease in England? That's what the latest government data suggests, making the proposed badger cull even more nonsensical than ever.'
5 Oct 2012, 1:16 PM
Back in 2008 Professor John Bourne ( Chair of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine TB) stated (AVTRW looks at the science of TB Vet Rec. 2008 162: 571-572) made the following comment:
‘I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, “fine John we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.