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?
5 Apr 2012, 6:06 PM
MG has sent us this link www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Slaughter-badgers-pointless/story-15694939-detail/story.html which explains why the slaughter of badgers is pointless. Some interesting information in this one and the source seems reliable. 'And in fact Old Brock cannot possibly be the main problem, since after 40 years' research, neither Prof Bourne and the ISG, nor anyone else, has realistically shown how badgers might give cows a respiratory lung infection. Cattle TB is almost 100% a lung infection via breathed in sputum droplets ... and prolonged contact over-wintering in barns is needed to achieve this. A badger popping into a barn for a drink and snack of cattle nuts won't work! And there have been far too few superexcretor badgers which might pose a risk to other badgers or cows: just 166 out of eleven million badgers culled by the ISG. And in the classic Woodchester study, over 14 years there were just l7 among the 350 badger population in 9 sq km, so no wonder there was no spread between badger clans, very little within them (Krebs report, p48), and no cattle breakdowns due to them either.'
31 Mar 2012, 8:07 PM
'Analysis, Badgers and Bovine, Tuberculosis: The Relationship Between Law, Policy and Science, Badger Trust v Welsh Ministers' by Patrick Bishop  (http://jel.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/1/145.abstract)
Abstract The UK Court of Appeal, in Badger Trust v Welsh Ministers, was called upon to review the legality of a proposed policy of badger culling in Wales. The reasoning of the Court will be evaluated as a means of exploring the relationship between law, policy and science. In particular, the extent to which science is able to define and confine the parameters of available policy options will be considered in light of the Animal Health Act 1981, section 21. Where legislation implicitly creates a requirement to produce affirmative scientific evidence as a condition precedent of administrative action, then science is indeed able to curtail political choice. However, it will be argued that the ability of science to operate in this manner is undermined, first, by the very nature of scientific discourse, where evidence is frequently contested and open to interpretation, and second, by the Court's traditional deference to administrative discretion in cases of a technical nature.
30 Mar 2012, 5:47 PM
One farmer has told us their dealings with the NFU ground to a halt when the NFU were asked if they had a private ballot of their members to establish support for a badger cull and what percentage of their membership voted in favour.
'We believe their silence means they have not balloted their members other than possibly asking for show of hands at regional public meeting which, given the tribal nature of the farming community, could not be relied on as a reflection of true feelings.'
We wonder if the NFU have contravened Union practice by implying that the majority of their members (referred to them as 'farmers' as if every farmer in the land is an NFU member!) favours a badger cull without holding an official ballot to find out?
30 Mar 2012, 5:43 PM
Reading a recent article in the Farmers Guardian (www.farmersguardian.com/home/livestock/nfu-to-underwrite-cage-trapping-pilot-badger-cull-cost/45888.article#.T3L4TO0vHWo. twitter) it seems the NFU is struggling to get enough farmers to agree to badger culling on their land. This is hardly surprising when one considers the cost, legal structure of the agreements, public opposition to culling of wildlife, possible risks from activists, ... and there is no certainty it will work. The NFU is apparently struggling to get farmers to farmers to 'sign weighty legal documents and management agreements'.
According to the Farmers Guardian the company which will be responsible for the badger culling in West Gloucestershire has been formed and so far farmers representing 45 per cent of the land have signed up. The company in West Somerset is due to be incorporated. The intention is to submit licence applications to Natural England in around ‘six to eight weeks’.
26 Mar 2012, 2:23 PM
For more on the Bow Group think tank www.bowgroup.org/news/bow-group-urges-government-scrap-badger-cull-plans
26 Mar 2012, 2:01 PM
Following on from the recent decision in Wales to vaccinate, rather than cull badgers, an interesting piece reported in the Guardian today (also in Farmers Weekly). www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/26/badger-cull-bovine-tb-cattle-vaccination?newsfeed=true
"The government's planned cull of badgers is impractical, according to an influential Conservative thinktank, and should be scrapped in favour of vaccination to help curb the bovine TB infection afflicting cattle".
"The Bow Group paper exposes for the first time divisions in the Tory party over the nocturnal shooting of badgers in bovine TB hotspots and concludes that the scientific evidence favours vaccination over a cull, which it said would be ineffective and expensive".
The Bow Group are in favour of vaccinating rather than culling badgers.
Interestingly the new vice president, Adam Quinney, of the NFU has teamed up with the Badger Trust to vaccinate badgers on his land after his cattle contracted bovine TB.
"Now some Conservatives are pondering the political cost of a cull after the Bow Group found that 81% of people were opposed to it."
Richard Mabey, research secretary of the Bow Group, said: "Market research shows that the issue will be costly for the Conservatives in political terms, not least in the marginal seats in which the culling trials are to be held. Vaccination is best for badgers and best for the taxpayer: a shift in focus from culling to vaccination is now essential."
"But the Bow Group paper warned that Defra's estimates of the cost of a cull appear 'conservative' and policing costs of £500,000 per area per year could increase. The paper also pointed out that monitoring the requirement that farmers cull 70% of the badger population inside the cull zone was uncosted."
"It recommended tackling the disease with a combination of an injectable vaccine and improved biosecurity on farms, with farmers' compensation linked to fulfilment of biosecurity best practice. One scientific trial of the vaccine found it reduced positive TB in badgers by almost 74% but any subsequent reduction in the disease among cattle has not yet been tested".
Press Release from Pembrokeshire Against the Cull, received today.
Vaccination is the right way forward.
Pro-vaccination group, Pembrokeshire Against the Cull, (PAC) are delighted the Welsh Government have decided to reject Badger Culling and implement a strategy based on vaccination of badgers as part of its plan to obtain TB free status for Wales. It is particularly encouraging that the Minister is going to start the vaccination programme without delay this year. We are sure that there will be much relief, especially from those worried about the potential impact on tourism from culling, and cross-community support for this approach within the Intensive Action Area.
Celia Thomas chair of PAC said “We are very pleased that the Minister John Griffiths has taken the brave decision to change course and use badger vaccination to address any potential risks posed by Badgers in the spread of Bovine tb. We would urge him to improve and enforce the current cattle controls, in particular those that reduce opportunities for cross infection in cattle such as isolation and rapid removal of TB Reactors, in all Welsh Bovine tb hotspots.
Michael Griffiths said “Cattle Vaccination is the only long term strategy and we would ask The Minister to press the UK Government to pursue this option with the utmost urgency. We know that DEFRA*1 will, in the coming months, begin to discuss with farmers, vets and other interested parties how the cattle vaccine and DIVA test can be used in the field and the likely implications on different types of farm business.”
Pembrokeshire against the Cull is a group of landowners, farmers and residents living in the cull and surrounding areas. We take bovine TB very seriously, particularly its impact on our local community. We have significant scientific and other relevant experience within our group and are committed to peacefully and legally opposing the culling of badgers. We support a programme of cattle control measures, badger and cattle vaccination to help win the battle against Bovine TB.
Email from JK today saying that if you were listening live to the statement by John Griffiths today, Elin Jones, one of the AMs and the person previously pushing for a cull of badgers, essentially said that she would support farmers if they wanted to kill badgers themselves: something along the line that she would support them if they take measures into their own hands.
Surely this is not a satisfactory response and should such a person be in a position of power? We hope that formal complaints will be made and action outside the law will not be tolerated.
20 Mar 2012, 6:11 PM
John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development in the Welsh Government announced this afternoon that:-
"After careful consideration I have decide to pursue a badger vaccination programme.....I have asked my Chief Veterinary Officer to design the project to begin in the Intensive Action Area this summer and continue for five years. I have also asked her to consider other geographical areas where vaccination could also contribute to TB eradication ...
I have noted the advice on the potential benefits that might be obtained from vaccination or culling. My conclusion is that I am not at present satisfied that a cull of badgers would be necessary to bring about a substantial reduction in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in which case I cannot authorise a cull under the Animal Health Act 1981.
Rethink BTB, the research group which last year highlighted serious failings in current Bovine TB policy and cattle test accuracy, has welcomed today’s statement by John Griffiths, the Welsh Government Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development.
Badger vaccination may help, and importantly avoids the serious risk inherent in badger culling of further spreading disease.
However the main issue has again been missed. Test and slaughter of cattle is a primitive approach to disease control, made even more ineffective by the inaccurate nature of the tests used. Any long term and effective solution must include cattle vaccination.
The cattle vaccine, BCG, has been used on humans for decades. If the political will existed, use on cattle would have been licensed years ago. Defra admit that recent research indicates a protective effect between 56% and 68%. This vastly outperforms any other measure proposed including badger culling.(1)
Rethink BTB spokesman Michael Ritchie, said that: “It is not enough that the UK Government is gently “asking” the EU for permission to vaccinate cattle against BTB. They must demand it, or simply declare that we will vaccinate cattle anyway. Tens of thousands of cattle are being slaughtered unnecessarily every year so that we comply with outdated EU laws”.
Notes: Copies of the second edition of the Rethink BTB report are available for download free of charge from www.rethinkbtb.org/rethink_documents/BTB_rethink_2nd_edition.pdf
The report proposes that Bovine TB should be handled like any other animal disease, and so farmers should be free to choose the most suitable means of control for their farm. The highest priority must be licensing of the cattle vaccine and removing European legal barriers to its use.
I see the Somerset County Gazette states the estimated value of damage caused is £100,000! Also in a report in the same paper on 16 February we are told there was an arson attack on a unoccupied chalet in Cleeve Park, Chapel Cleeve (same area as the farm - is this being blamed on the cull proposals too?
4 Mar 2012, 6:09 PM
The cull proposals are starting to be blamed for several incidents in the two cull areas (Gloucestershire and Somerset). Whether these incidents are as a result of the plans to cull or not we may never know but it is clear that the threat of such action is causing yet more stress for farmers.
Whilst the HQs of an NFU building in Glos has been covered in graffiti, a more serious incident occurred in Somerset. According to Farmers Weekly a dairy farmer in Old Cleeve, Somerset (one of the proposed pilot cull areas) has suffered a string of attacks against his business, which began after he publicly backed the pilot badger culls. The farm has had two suspected arson attacks, resulting in around £60,000 worth of damage.
Mr Thomas, whose herd tested positive for bovine tuberculosis for the first time last month, made it clear that he supported the badger cull when he was interviewed by his local paper recently. Since then the farm has had two fires and milk is believed to have been contaminated. The first blaze broke out at around 3am on 1 February in a shed where 50 calves were being kept. Mr Thomas and his wife Marie smelt burning and rang 999. They were able to get all the calves out of the shed unharmed before trying to extinguish the fire with buckets of water.
"It was very frightening. Glass was shattering and the roof was falling in while we were getting the calves out," Mrs Thomas said. Firefighters put out the fires but powdered milk, costing £1,400, was destroyed and there was serious damage to the roof. A week later, on 8 February, a sample taken at the dairy detected that the milk had been contaminated. Tests are ongoing to determine the source of the contamination.
"At first we thought the fire had been an accident, but I am concerned that this may be part of an organised attack," Mr Thomas said. The milk tanker had been on its last collection and contained 20,000 litres of milk, which has since been destroyed at the family's expense. The family will also have to pay £6,000 in costs to refund producers.
The second fire broke out on Monday, 20 February at around 4.45am. It destroyed a shed and everything stored inside, including a muck spreader, 100t of straw and 29.5t of fertiliser, totalling £27,500.
A spokesman for Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service said: "We have completed our investigation and we believe it was started deliberately." Mr and Mrs Thomas are under a great deal of stress and Mrs Thomas said;"I can't sleep at night because I'm so worried. The biggest concern is that it will happen again."
Security measures have been stepped up on farm, but the couple admit they are concerned for their own safety. Mr Thomas believes he is being targeted by animal rights activists. "We've been here nearly eight years and have had no trouble and then there's that piece in the paper and this all happens," Mr Thomas said. However, would animal rights activists set fire to a building which contained live animals?
28 Feb 2012, 9:25 AM
BADGER TRUST LAUNCHES LEGAL BID TO PREVENT COSTLY, COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE CULL
A Press Release issued by the Badger Trust on 27 February 2012 has confirmed it will lodge a claim in the High Court to seek a Judicial Review of DEFRA’s decision of 14th December 2011 to kill badgers in England. The Trust continues to do all it can to prevent the proposed ‘DIY’ farmer-led cull, which, the group says, will not benefit badgers, cattle, farmers, rural communities or the tax-payer.
This action to have the decision quashed follows extensive legal and scientific advice as well as correspondence and meetings with DEFRA to clarify its position on the many issues of concern to the Trust. The Badger Trust and a majority of the public consider that the cull poses serious risks to cattle and badgers. The methodology for evaluating any results from the cull is also defective. Before now it was unclear what DEFRA had actually decided, and what remained to be decided following the ‘pilot’ culls planned for late 2012 in Gloucestershire and Somerset. In light of DEFRA’s various responses, the Trust has now concluded that the decision is unlawful and should be quashed.
The Trust will ask the court to overturn DEFRA’s decision on the basis of three grounds:
1, The Secretary of State has authorised Natural England to issue licences to reduce the rate of new incidences of bovine TB (although she expects a mere 12-16% reduction in bTB after 9 years at a huge net cost to the farmer). However, ‘reducing incidence’ is not the purpose for which the legal power was granted. The culls proposed will not meet the strict legal test of "preventing the spread of disease" in the areas being licensed, and may in fact amount to a recipe for spreading the disease. DEFRA’s own evidence confirms that the proposed cull would in fact prompt the spread of disease in and around the cull zones. Badger Trust considers that this is entirely antithetical to the aims in the strict test set down in section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
2. The cost impact assessment underpinning DEFRA’s decision is flawed, as its cost assumptions are based on the farmer free-shooting option (this is estimated to be approximately ten times cheaper than cage-trapping badgers before killing them). However, after the first year of piloting the cull plans, the free-shooting method may be ruled out for being inhumane, ineffective or unsafe to the public. In that case, farmers will find themselves legally obliged to continue the cull on the much more costly "trap and shoot" basis until the end of the 4-year licence. This is a significant cost risk for farmers, yet it is not properly reflected in the cost impact assessment which underpinned DEFRA’s decision. The Secretary of State did not ask herself the right questions so as to obtain crucial information on costs. Badger Trust considers that this renders the decision entirely unlawful. Given the poor cost-benefit prognosis for the cull, the Trust also hopes that Parliament and the farming community will now carefully reconsider DEFRA’s ‘Big Society’ DIY cull plans.
3 Guidance which DEFRA issued to Natural England is invalid. Under section 15(2) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 the Secretary of State may issue guidance to Natural England as to how Natural England should exercise its functions. However, killing badgers is not one of Natural England’s original functions, which are mainly focussed on maintaining biodiversity. Even though DEFRA is making Natural England responsible for the licensing arrangements, under section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, culling badgers ‘for the prevention of spread of disease’ remains the Secretary of State’s own function. Thus, she had no legal power to issue section 15 guidance to Natural England in these circumstances.
The Badger Trust’s decision to bring this challenge arises from the following convictions and obligations which flow from them:
· Culling badgers as proposed (whether by free-shooting or trapping and shooting) can make no meaningful contribution to the eradication of bTB and risks making matters worse. Stricter cattle measures - as 10 years of taxpayer-funded independent research have concluded - will beat the disease.
· The badger appears to be a scapegoat for an industry that underrates the risk of cattle-to-cattle transmission, and one which has reportedly experienced a significant number of incidents of poor animal husbandry, fraud and flouting of cattle management regulations.
The Trust’s solicitor, Gwendolen Morgan of Bindmans LLP, said: "We have identified some serious flaws in the way by which the Secretary of State reached her decision to cull badgers. Given that DEFRA’s proposals come at an enormous cost to farmers, and threaten to prompt rather than prevent the spread of disease, we hope that this ill-conceived decision will be struck down by the court."
Pat Hayden, vice chairman of Badger Trust said: "Despite opposition from the majority of the public who responded to the Government’s consultations and stark warnings from many eminent independent scientists, it is astonishing that DEFRA has given the green light to a badger cull. Badger Trust will exhaust all peaceful, legal avenues of challenge to prevent this wrong-headed cull from going ahead."
1 The Badger Trust has a well-respected reputation for pursuing effective legal challenges on behalf of the badger. The Trust’s Judicial Review of the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to kill badgers succeeded on all grounds in the Court of Appeal in 2010. The Trust considers that culling would not lead to any substantial reduction in the incidence of bTB and could make matters worse. As a result of the Trust’s proposed legal action in 2011, the new Welsh Government is reconsidering whether or not to undertake Government-led culling.
2 The Coalition Government’s own public consultation showed 67 per cent of those who responded were against culling. A BBC poll in June 2011 found 68 per cent against, and a nation-wide petition against culling currently has 52,000 signatures.
3 Given that DEFRA’s system for recording TB statistics has mysteriously been out of action since September 2011 it is unclear how any cull results can be properly evaluated.
4 This is because a campaign of culling inevitably disrupts badgers’ normally stable social structures and causes them to roam further in search of food and territory, thereby prompting the spread of disease. Badgers outside the area culled are also at risk of infection. The farmers' free-shooting scheme planned for later this year may well spread the disease more than the tested ‘cage-trap and shoot’ model used in the last cull in England (the DEFRA RBCT trials from 1997-2007 which concluded that culling was ineffective as a method of controlling TB).
Based on almost a decade of research costing over £50 million and 11,000 culled badgers, the report concluded that: "The ISG’s work – most of which has already been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals - has reached two key conclusions. First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better. Second, 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."
12 Feb 2012, 1:58 PM
Effectiveness of Biosecurity Measures in Preventing Badger Visits to Farm Buildings interesting paper published recently and available to read in full at www.plosone.org/article/info%253Adoi%252F10.1371%252Fjournal.pone.0028941
Results Badger visits to farm buildings occurred on 19 of the 32 farms in phase one. In phase two, the simple exclusion measures were 100% effective in preventing badger entry into farm buildings, as long as they were appropriately deployed. Furthermore, the installation of exclusion measures also reduced the level of badger visits to the rest of the farmyard. The findings of the present study clearly demonstrate how relatively simple practical measures can substantially reduce the likelihood of badger visits to buildings and reduce some of the potential for contact and disease transmission between badgers and cattle
10 Feb 2012, 10:37 AM
Badger Trust gives DEFRA notice of legal challenge
The Badger Trust has sent a letter to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs giving them notice of the grounds of challenge which the Badger Trust intends to pursue if DEFRA does not set aside its decision to kill badgers in its measures to eradicate bovine tuberculosis. DEFRA’s final position should be known by 17 February.
David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “The Badger Trust has responded in detail to both DEFRA’s consultation papers on culling and suggested viable alternatives. However, our concerns that the culls proposed will actually spread the disease have not been heeded. In the light of this and our concerns over the legality of the decision, we would be failing in our duty to badgers if we did not pursue a legal challenge despite the difficulty and cost risks involved. If there is an opportunity to save many thousands of healthy badgers, as there is here, we must take it on behalf of the many local badger groups and supporters on whose behalf the Badger Trust works. If successful it would also save farmers the expense of a policy which would not benefit them.
“Once again the Badger Trust leads the way in defence of this iconic indigenous mammal by challenging the legal basis of the Government’s decision. In April 2011 the Badger Trust, with the support of Pembrokeshire Against the Cull, embarked on legal proceedings to quash a second Order of the then Welsh Assembly Government to destroy badgers. As a result of the Badger Trust’s challenge, the matter was suspended pending the outcome of a comprehensive scientific review ordered by the new Welsh Government”.
The Badger Trust’s present action follows extensive legal advice as well as correspondence with DEFRA Ministers and officials to clarify the Department’s position on many topics of concern. Officers of the Badger Trust have also had several discussions with Ministers in person before the decision was announced. Matters raised included what has been decided, what else remains to be decided, when, and the process of implementation.
In short, the Badger Badger Trust considers that:
1. the culls proposed will not meet the strict legal test of “preventing the spread of disease” in the areas being licensed, and may amount to a recipe for spreading the disease. Quite contrary to the aims in the strict test set down in section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, DEFRA’s own evidence confirms that the proposed cull will in fact increase the spread of the disease in and around the cull zones. This is because a campaign of culling inevitably disrupts badgers’ normally stable social structures and causes them to roam further in search of food and territory, thereby prompting the spread of disease. Badgers outside the area culled are also likely to roam inward and take over the culled badgers setts. (This phenomenon is specific to badger ecology and social behaviour and is known as “perturbation”). Many cattle farmers in and around the cull zones are understandably very concerned about the risk that bovine TB will be spread onto their land as a result of the cull.
2. DEFRA’s cost impact assessment underpinning the decision is flawed because the cost assumptions are based on the free-shooting option which is assumed to be much cheaper. However, in correspondence with the Badger Trust, DEFRA recently confirmed that, if after the first year of piloting the plans, free-shooting is ruled out for being inhumane, ineffective or unsafe, then farmers will be legally obliged to continue the cull on a much more costly “trap and shoot” basis for the remaining years of their licence (and farmers will have to make a further upfront financial deposit on this basis plus a contingency sum of 25 per cent). These are significant cost risks for farmers but they are not properly reflected in the cost impact assessment which underpinned DEFRA’s decision. This may render the decision unlawful. (Farmers would be well advised to study the impact assessment which concludes that they will be out of pocket, even if free shooting were to be approved.)
3. the guidance which DEFRA issued to Natural England is invalid. The Secretary of State issued guidance to Natural England under section 15(2) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 as to how Natural England should exercise its functions. However, killing badgers is not in fact one of Natural England’s functions, which are mainly focussed on maintaining biodiversity. Even though DEFRA is making Natural England responsible for the administrative arrangements this does not mean that culling becomes one of Natural England’s functions. Therefore, the guidance was not correctly devised.
Will pilot badger-cull trials really be worth the effort?; asks Philip Hosking, South Hams farmer and president of the Small Farms Association. He certainly does not think so. He says he has seen some daft agricultural policies in his life, but he has to remind himself what this is all for – a 16% drop in bovine TB after nine years in the cull areas, if all goes to plan. In other words, if your herd had six TB reactors last year, you’re on track to have only five reactors in 2020. Worth the money and risk?
Phil has been following the development of the test to differentiate infected from vaccinated cattle. Evidence to support international validation of the test will be submitted to the international animal health standards organisation in the summer. This is an independent certification that should be acceptable as evidence of the efficacy of the test.
Surely now we should be asking that the EU amends the relevant directives and regulations to enable the development and use of a TB vaccine in cattle?
Press release from Badger Trust 20 January 2012 is set out below. Facts in this reveal just how few badgers have bTB and very few of these were found to have lesions. Culling must therefore be disproportionate; not cost effective, bad PR for the farming industry and not a sustainable solution for farmers.
'Specialists like Devon farmer **** **** can identify diseased setts, but often lack academic qualifications deemed necessary to do the job – a great pity’. News item: Western Morning News .
SUCH RURAL MYTHS as this are increasingly prevalent. The reality, says the Badger Trust, is that it is virtually impossible even for highly qualified scientists, let alone lay individuals, to detect infection in live, uncaged animals in the field. The exceptions - and these are rare - occur when the disease is extremely advanced and the badgers have severe lesions and are potentially highly infectious.
The complexities of proving the presence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) - even in dead badgers - are many and expensive, and they are spelt out, says the Trust, in the 2007 report  of the scientists overseeing the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trials, acknowledged by the Coalition Government as the only sufficiently rigorous survey.
That same report showed that of the 9,919 badgers killed in the RBCT between 1998 and 2005 only 166 had severe lesions.
Dismissing claims that selective culling of diseased badgers is possible using field signs the Trust points out that for 39 years scientists studied about 30 social groups of undisturbed badgers at Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire . This showed that as many as 80 per cent of badgers never got bTB, with only five per cent becoming capable of passing on the disease. Research at Woodchester also demonstrated that infected badgers often shared setts with uninfected badgers, itself evidence that challenges the suggestion that any setts can be safely categorised as "infected".
Further research (4) also demonstrated that territories of social groups where bTB was particularly prevalent - ie "hotspots" - often abutted those of uninfected groups.
The Badger Trust draws particular attention to a report (5) in which Derek Mead, until recently a National Farmers’ Union council member, wrote: "I and a number of other farmers have a Plan B. It's based on using specialist knowledge to differentiate healthy setts from diseased ones and targeting only the latter. The clear-up rate is 100 per cent, the impact on TB in local herds remarkable and dramatic. But of course, those who possess the skills to carry out such operations do not have any letters after their names,which is why their expertise is not being recognised".
Says the Badger Trust: claims like this, and there have been others in south west media, are totally unproven, have no scientific validation, and raise worrying issues of illegal actions. To assert that such highly contentious methods have 100 per cent success clearly implies that they have been tried and tested and that badgers, as a direct result, have been killed.
Even now, on the eve of the Government’s highly contentious plan to launch licensed pilot "culls", badgers remain protected, as do their setts. Unlicensed slaughter is a crime.
'Why I won't be backing the badger cull', is the headline of the article by Stephen Carr in the online Farmers Weekly (http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/21/01/2012/130931/Why-I-won39t-be-backing-the-badger-cull.htm#.Txp_ZSB2n-E.twitter). Stephen runs an 800ha (1,950-acre) sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife.
He is concerned regarding the cull proposal and in particular the potential security risks for farmers involved. He refers to the £500,000 estimate (per cull area) for the policing cost and the fact that areas will not be kept secret. BTB has dominated Stephen's farming life. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night and, rather than waste time counting sheep, try to count up how much bTB has cost him over the 30 years he has been farming. Despite thaving had 1,300 head of cattle under bTB movement restrictions and 60-day rolling testing for continuous periods of up to five years he will not be one of the farmers signing up for the cull. He says:
' .. if I'm going to be a social pariah I'll have to be convinced that the cull amounts to something more than a token gesture on the part of cynical politicians who have thrown this sop to desperate English cattle farmers who wish to see "something done".
"Even if the culling reduces cattle bTB infections in cull zones more than the pathetic 16% over nine years that is predicted, the government has stated that it has no plans to roll the cull out over England's bTB-infected badger area. Instead we are offered culls in up to 40 zones, if enough farmers come forward to pay for them - a drop in the ocean of infectivity that now stretches across the whole of the South West and much of the West of England".
"Thanks, Ms Spelman, but desperate as I am to see the back of bTB, I certainly won't be signing up to this one".
This paper examines UK farmers' levels of confidence in vaccinating badgers against bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and their trust in the Government's ability to deal with bTB. In 2010, a badger vaccine based on the BCG vaccine was licensed following field trials and used as part of the UK Government's Badger Vaccination Deployment Project. A stratified random sample of cattle farmers in five different locations of England was surveyed using a telephone survey to elicit their views of badger vaccination. The survey provided a total of 341 responses with a response rate of 80 per cent. Results suggest that the farmers are cautious about badger vaccination, appearing to be neither overly confident nor unconfident in it. However, the farmers did not reveal high levels of trust in the Government to manage bTB policy or badger vaccination. There were no differences in the levels of confidence or trust between farms that were under bTB restrictions at the time of the survey and those that were not or between farms with historically high levels of bTB. Analysis of principal components suggests that 33 per cent of the farmers accepted badger vaccination, but that acceptance is dependent on the wider social and political environment.
10 Jan 2012, 6:33 PM
Interesting summary of situation in current Land mag by Ed Hamer (Winter 11/12 www.thelandmagazine.org.uk). We have been given permission to reproduce here.
The Great Bovine TB Cover Up Few people could have missed the media circus that has accompanied the coalition’s intention to license the culling of badgers in two pilot areas, in an effort to curb the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB). The idea of this, our most cuddly of protected mammals, being rounded up and shot was evidently too much to bear for many commentators. Labour, the Green Party and Sir David Attenborough are among those who have come out fighting to condemn the cull. And although the campaign to “Can the Cull” has cleverly exploited the public’s appetite for defending a cute furry animal, it has spectacularly missed an opportunity to highlight the real reason that TB is crippling the UK’s beef and dairy farmers.
There is little doubt that there is currently a Bovine TB epidemic in the countryside. Following a brief lull in the mid-1980’s, incidences of Bovine TB have increased year on year with today’s levels the highest since 2001. Mr and Mrs Badger meanwhile have enjoyed a relative honeymoon period since gaining legal protection in 1992, and have increased their population accordingly.
The NFU and the coalition government, backed by the weight of several independent studies, argue that this trend demonstrates a clear link between badger populations in the UK and the spread of Bovine TB. The pro-badger camp meanwhile cite their own independent scientific papers, which argue that badgers are not in fact responsible for transmitting TB to cows, and that a cull would be inhumane and a waste of public money. Unfortunately the story isn’t quite as black and white as it seems.
Interestingly TB infection poses little health risk to today’s cows within an economic lifespan of three to five years. The reason we’re pursuing TB eradication is because we’re signed up to a European Agricultural Policy with a zero tolerance approach to TB infection. As far back as 1958, the argument was made that an unhealthy cow is an unproductive cow, and does not represent maximum efficiency for farmers, or more importantly, for the taxpayer who is subsidising them.
As a result an EU eradication policy was decided upon and compulsory TB testing of cattle was introduced to the UK in 1959. Remarkably little has changed since then. Every farm in the country is routinely tested for Bovine TB on a one to four year cycle. If a farm is found to have a TB “reactor” it is removed and killed, and the farm is re-tested every 60 days until tests show that the infection hasn’t spread throughout the herd. During this time no cattle are allowed to be moved onto, or from the farm – with added costs incurred by the farmer. In return farmers get favourable compensation for every “reactor” that is killed. The whole process is highly bureaucratic, unpopular with farmers and currently costs UK taxpayers £90 million per year.
In order to justify this level of spending DEFRA first and foremost claims to be “protecting public health and maintaining public confidence in the safety of products entering the food chain”. This despite the fact that the UK Health Protection Agency has concluded that (excepting unpasteurised milk) “the current risk posed by M. bovis (Bovine TB) to human health in the UK is considered negligible”. In fact there is so little concern that, following an autopsy, “reactor” cattle simply enter the food chain in the UK anyway.
DEFRA’s second argument is that an eradication policy “protects and promotes the health and welfare of animals”. However if this was really the objective, wouldn’t we simply vaccinate against the infection? Well, no - although a bTB vaccine is widely available, a vaccinated cow cannot be distinguished from a TB carrier once it arrives on the continent and so, incredibly, the vaccine is prohibited by EU law. Instead DEFRA’s third and final argument that we are “meeting international and domestic legal commitments and securing opportunities for international trade”, perhaps hits the nail on the head.
The UK is legally bound by both international and bilateral commitments relating to trade in agricultural goods and services. Yes, these agreements allow us to make the most of our competitive advantage for producing livestock. But they also relegate livestock and farm produce to the status of any other commodity traded in pre-determined volumes. As a direct result we’re currently spending £90 million a year protecting a live export industry which has never exceeded £3.3 million in annual revenue since the BSE export ban was lifted in 1998.
Of course, one revolutionary but effective solution could be for the UK to nullify its agricultural trade ties, vaccinate the herds and retain our beef for domestic consumption. UK farmers could enjoy not having to compete with cheaper continental imports, and instead produce slow-grown quality beef for British consumers. And while a successful farmer may never be able to compete with a fluffy badger in the eyes of the public, the badger may well end up better off when he no longer stands between a good farmer and an honest income.
www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0028904 (see also www.oxfordscibar.com/new-evidence-suggesting-badger-culling-is-counter-productive.html)
'Culling-Induced Changes in Badger (Meles meles) Behaviour, Social Organisation and the Epidemiology of Bovine Tuberculosis'
In the UK, attempts since the 1970s to control the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle by culling a wildlife host, the European badger (Meles meles), have produced equivocal results. Culling-induced social perturbation of badger populations may lead to unexpected outcomes. We test predictions from the ‘perturbation hypothesis’, determining the impact of culling operations on badger populations, movement of surviving individuals and the influence on the epidemiology of bTB in badgers using data dervied from two study areas within the UK Government's Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). Culling operations did not remove all individuals from setts, with between 34–43% of badgers removed from targeted social groups. After culling, bTB prevalence increased in badger social groups neighbouring removals, particularly amongst cubs. Seventy individual adult badgers were fitted with radio-collars, yielding 8,311 locational fixes from both sites between November 2001 and December 2003. Home range areas of animals surviving within removed groups increased by 43.5% in response to culling. Overlap between summer ranges of individuals from Neighbouring social groups in the treatment population increased by 73.3% in response to culling. The movement rate of individuals between social groups was low, but increased after culling, in Removed and Neighbouring social groups. Increased bTB prevalence in Neighbouring groups was associated with badger movements both into and out of these groups, although none of the moving individuals themselves tested positive for bTB. Significant increases in both the frequency of individual badger movements between groups and the emergence of bTB were observed in response to culling. However, no direct evidence was found to link the two phenomena. We hypothesise that the social disruption caused by culling may not only increase direct contact and thus disease transmission between surviving badgers, but may also increase social stress within the surviving population, causing immunosuppression and enhancing the expression of disease.
The conclusion reveals that 'this study clearly demonstrates how relatively simple practical measures can substantially reduce the likelihood of badger visits to buildings. Given the opportunities that visits to farm facilities may present for the transmission of M. bovis between badgers and cattle, these measures could potentially have an important role to play in reducing the incidence of TB in cattle. However, we observed wide variation in the extent to which exclusion measures were employed by farmers. In addition, the frequency of badger visits amongst farms varied independently of the presence of exclusion measures, suggesting that badgers are more attracted to some farms than to others and hence that the potential benefits of exclusion measures will also vary. Consequently, the identification of factors that might determine the likelihood of badger visits to farm premises would be a useful aid to individual farmers in making decisions about whether to spend their time and money on installing and maintaining badger exclusion measures'.