Source : http://www.stopthecull.info/
The government is ignoring scientists’ advice on bovine TB – killing badgers is not the solution. This blog writer agrees… ‘The Guardian’ updates.
It is a message being peddled by the farming press, by some – but not all – farmers, and even by the BBC’s Countryfile programme. They say that thousands of cattle are being slaughtered every year (30,000 in 2010) because of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) – an airborne respiratory disease – at enormous cost to farmers and the taxpayer: £100m last year. This much is true. They also say that bTB is being passed to cattle by badgers. This I dispute, based on evidence from those who know better than me – scientists.
Those of us who want to protect badgers from such bad press are forced on to the defensive. Particularly now, as the government has said it is “minded” to authorise a massive cull of badgers in an effort to control bTB.
It wasn’t always like this. Bovine TB was almost eradicated by 1970, when there were only about 1,000 cases. Eleven years of localised badger culling failed to reduce the toll further. But the end of annual cattle testing in the mid-80s, and the devastating effects of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, when testing was abandoned altogether, meant that many farms lost thousands of animals, and afterward there was a rush to restock. Regulations were relaxed, so cattle were bought and sold and – crucially – moved all over the country. Bovine tuberculosis was back. These relaxations of the movement and testing regimes – not badgers – were to blame.
So, to the question of whether badgers are responsible for increasing infection rates in cattle. If they are, how have cattle remained free of bTB in Scotland, where no badgers have been killed? Why do they have it in the Isle of Man, where there are no badgers? And why are bTB rates twice as high in Ireland, where so many badgers have been killed that they are extinct in many areas?
Could it be possible that cattle are infecting badgers? After all, cattle far outnumber badgers – 9 million cattle to, at most, a quarter of a million badgers.
George Pearce, a wildlife consultant, used to be a farmer. In his new book, Badger Behaviour, Conservation and Rehabilitation: 70 Years of Getting to Know Badgers, he explains how his family’s farm, which always had badger setts on it, managed to remain free of bTB from 1950 to 2008, when the herd was dispersed.
Since the 1930s, there have been four important measures used to combat bTB: very strict movement controls, thorough cleansing of livestock buildings, good ventilation and double fencing on all boundaries to prevent cattle in adjoining fields from exchanging saliva.
Pearce says that if we want to solve this crisis, we should be talking about cattle, not badgers.
Aside from these measures, he suggests that we look at the bloodlines of our cattle. All bulls, whether used naturally or artificially, should have blood tests to assess their susceptibility to bTB. The reduced gene pool of bulls over the past 60 years could be contributing to the problem.
Cattle that were largely bTB-free in the 60s and 70s, he adds – mostly British breeds – have gradually been replaced by continental breeds. Are they less resistant?
What’s more, cattle are bred much more intensively now, and bTB is known to be a stress-related disease.
What about dietary deficiencies? Dick Roper in Gloucestershire was anxious to find out why one of his farms was hit by bTB when his others were not. On the affected farm, the cattle were fed on maize, which badgers also love. But maize lacks selenium, a mineral that – in humans and livestock – is necessary to maintain a strong immune system. So, Roper introduced selenium mineral licks for his cattle, and for the badgers on his land – to the amusement of his neighbours – and cured his problem, despite all the farms around him becoming infected. Are cattle getting bTB because their immune system is compromised?
In the past two years, improved cattle testing, biosecurity and movement controls in England have led to a 15% reduction in the rates of bTB infection. In Wales, during the same period, the number of cattle slaughtered because of bTB has fallen by 36%, and by 45% in Dyfed. The Welsh Assembly Government had proposed a cull, before being forced to drop the plan.
And this, without a single badger being culled – despite the fact that a few rogue farmers have been swapping the ID tags of cattle so that valuable animals with bTB were, illegally, kept on farms, while healthy, but less valuable, ones were sent to slaughter in their place.
David Williams, the Badger Trust‘s chairman, said in April:
“The effect of these offences is apparent: the guilty parties are harbouring and spreading disease by keeping infected cattle on farms. The cattle-based measures now in place depend absolutely on effective movement controls, honest and accurate record keeping and discipline. They have been producing heartening results without killing a single badger, particularly in Wales. However, if badger culling had been introduced last year, these improvements would have been claimed as ‘proof’ that culling had been necessary.”
Meanwhile, the statistics about the number of cattle slaughtered every year because of bTB, and the amount this costs, have been very visible in the media, but no one mentions the other causes of premature slaughter.
In 2009, 120,000 cattle were slaughtered because they were infertile. In 2008, 75,000 were slaughtered because they were “not in calf”; 50,000 because of mastitis; 25,000 because of lameness; and 7,000 because they were “low yield”. Not to mention the male dairy calves that are killed at birth because they are unprofitable. Compare these figures with the 30,000 with bTB that are slaughtered.
No one mentions these because they are not caused by wildlife. Several factors, including bad luck and bad husbandry, are at play. Farmers receive no compensation for these animals. They accept these losses as an unfortunate part of their livelihood – there is no one to blame.
Last year, the government announced a public consultation on whether we should have a cull. It ended in December, but the results had not been made public. Why not? A request for the information under the Freedom of Information Act was turned down because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said releasing the information “would affect their policy”. Isn’t that what a consultation is meant to do? They have, however, now included the results as part of another consultation, which closes on 20 September. Those figures show that, of those who responded, 69% would not want to cull and 31% were in favour of culling but alongside vaccination. Not exactly a resounding endorsement of the government’s proposals.
In other polls, too, the public have made their opposition clear: 97% against in a 2007 poll for the Labour government; 68%, both rural and urban, against in a recent BBC poll; 90.9% against in a Guardian poll in July. Even a recent poll by Countryfile, which largely has a farming audience, polled more than 60% against a cull.
Would badger culling help? The answer is no. And to support this conclusion, we need only look back at the evidence of the Krebs trial, a massive pilot cull of badgers over 10 years between 1997 and 2007, overseen by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG). It is a well-worn argument, but it bears repeating: the trial showed that bTB in the culling area was reduced only marginally. Outside the culling area, it actually rose, a result of what is called perturbation, where badgers who have survived a cull spread out to escape danger. This behaviour does not occur in any other species. The conclusion of this massive trial was that “culling can make no meaningful contribution to the reduction of bTB”.
In the weeks leading up to the government’s latest announcement, seven former members of the ISG wrote a letter to the Times opposing a proposed cull. They included Lord Krebs, who designed the 10-year trial and is now chairman of the House of Lords science and technology select committee, Professor John Bourne, the ISG’s chairman, and Dr Chris Cheeseman, the principal scientist for many years at Defra’s Woodchester Park study area in Gloucestershire, where farmers themselves were involved in research into badgers, cattle and bTB. They said there was “no empirical data on the cost or effectiveness (or indeed humaneness or safety) of controlling badgers by shooting, which has been illegal for decades”.
In early July, Lord Krebs said: “The trial evidence should be interpreted as an argument against culling. You cull intensively for at least four years, you will have a net benefit of reducing TB in cattle of 12% to 16%. So you leave 85% of the problem still there.”
It seems their arguments have fallen on deaf ears. Make no mistake, this is an argument the government does not want to hear.
If bTB is in decline, why is the government not saying this in public? This lack of openness appears to vindicate those who believe that a decision to cull is a matter of political expediency, to secure the farmers’ vote, and is not based on the available evidence.
But those of us who have an interest in all animals, whether wild or farmed, are tired of badgers being the scapegoat.
- Badger Update : The Wildlife Trusts’ and Badger Trust views on the cull (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Update : Plan for cull is slammed as ‘sickening’ (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger cull update : what it all means (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Do we have to shoot the badgers? (guardian.co.uk)
- Badgers | Must We Kill? (once-upon.org)
- Farmers’ call for badger cull to be approved by ministers (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Update : Campaigners aim to stop badger cull (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Humans v Nature : Farmers criticise badger cull delay (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Update : Spelman fires starting gun on cull (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
The much-maligned and misunderstood badgers are still being used as a scapegoat …. The Guardian reports on latest developments
National Farmer’s Union says ‘biosecurity’ measures are not enough as figures show rising rates of TB infection in cattle
Farmers have expressed their frustration at the government’s delay on a badger cull after the latest figures showed rising rates of TB infection in cattle.
The National Farmers’ Union said that in the worst affected areas, such as Staffordshire, Shropshire and Dorset, the increase was over 30% on the previous year.
The national increase was 4.4% once a rise in the number of herds tested was taken into account, the provisional figures revealed.
The NFU said the figures showed that “biosecurity” measures to keep cattle and feed away from wildlife such as badgers, which are known to transmit the disease, and increased testing were not enough to tackle the problem.
The NFU chief farm policy adviser, John Royle, said the coalition government’s delay in bringing in the promised cull of badgers in areas which are hotspots for the disease was “completely frustrating”.
The new government had promised it would bring in a “science-led” policy on tackling TB in cattle, which costs the taxpayer and farmers millions of pounds a year to deal with, which would include culling.
Last September it launched a consultation on how a cull could be implemented, alongside other measures such as vaccinating badgers for the disease, but a legal challenge to a cull in Wales has held up a final decision in England.
Farmers in England have been urging the government to allow them to implement a cull, but animal welfare and wildlife groups are opposed to the killing of badgers, which are protected wild animals, and claim a cull is not the answer.
Royle said: “Despite strict cattle controls that include regular testing, isolation of infected cattle before slaughter, herd restrictions preventing trade, the slaughter of any dangerous contacts and testing every 60 days until the herd has two clear tests, the national and regional incidence of TB in our herds continues to rise unabated.
“Improved wildlife biosecurity awareness has led to practical measures being taken in many instances and the industry recognises the role it can play in reducing the impact of TB on farms.
“However it is not a guaranteed safeguard from infection. We must break the cycle of infection from badgers to cattle or we will never be able to get on top of this terrible disease.”
He urged the government to make the promised decision and provide licences for trained professionals to cull badgers in areas where there are high incidences of the disease.
- UK public opposed to proposed badger cull (retrieverman.wordpress.com)
- Poll suggests badger cull opposed (bbc.co.uk)
- Shooting badgers to be legal under plans for ‘big society cull’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Trust planning badger vaccination (bbc.co.uk)
- Response: This won’t be a ‘big society badger cull’. Bovine TB must be controlled (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger cull ‘may not happen’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Adam Henson receives death threats over badger cull (telegraph.co.uk)
- National Trust to vaccinate badgers as cull looks increasingly unlikely (telegraph.co.uk)
- National Trust to begin badger vaccine trial (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger culling: are ministers about to shoot themselves in the foot? (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- SOURCE: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/23/farmers-badger-cull-delay
The Independent on Sunday reports: Government expects legal challenges from wildlife activists as it consults on how to tackle TB in cattle
Farmers in England are to be issued with licences to cull badgers under plans to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cattle herds, which will spark a storm of protest from animal lovers.
MY VIEW: Surely this is a clear case of humans, not being able to get the bottom of an issue, using a wonderful but inconspicuous creature – it’s nocturnal and unfortunatly not loved by all – being made to be a scapegoat! Just as well badgers are not a national emblem or they have no real voice… Hang on, that’s most plants and animals!
FROM THE INDEPENDENT BLOGS
How contemptuous to label people concerned about wildlife as a “Wind in the Willows” generation. I suppose people who concern themselves about the fate of gorillas could be called “Gorilla in the Mist” generations. Concerned about Lions? Then you must be a “Born Free” generation.
I am a concerned about wildlife generation and in particular, the most persecuted wildlife in the world..The British Wildlife.
Badgers may “Allegedly” carry TB but they don’t cause it, so why the hell don’t the government tackle the cause of this disease rather than slaughter innocent wild animals.
Our wildlife should be protected, by law, and only culled in circumstances proved by overwhelming evidence. Thereby setting an example to the rest of the world in good wildlife management.
I am absolutely disgusted with the abuse of our wildlife, with Foxes guts being used to lay scents, as the most disgusting example of abuse I have ever heard of.
This new cull has no supporting evidence as to its effectiveness and is being countenanced as a sop to the wealthy landowning friends of this incompetent government.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will risk legal action – and the wrath of generations of Wind in the Willow readers – to give the go-ahead for a cull in the areas worst affected by the disease.
The coalition will launch a public consultation later this month on the precise details of the scheme, which would allow landowners who can prove the measures are necessary to cull and vaccinate badgers over an area of at least 50 square miles.
As well as the distress to farmers caused by the slaughter of infected herds – 25,000 cattle were destroyed last year – the ongoing crisis which has gripped the countryside also costs the Treasury millions every year. Compensation payments totalled around £90m in 2009, with cases concentrated in the south-west of England.
The move will not be without controversy. Politics and wildlife rarely make happy bedfellows. Labour endured a storm of protest after bringing in a foxhunting ban which has proved almost impossible to police or enforce.
A senior source at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “This will not be popular with people who view badgers as something from Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter, but it is the right thing to do. We cannot go on not taking action to deal with this huge problem.”
While there is widespread evidence that badgers carry TB and can pass it to livestock, a decade-long study, costing £35m, by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, concluded that culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to control of the disease because it displaces the badgers, spreading the disease over a wider area. As a result, the Labour government rejected calls for a cull, and instead focused on vaccination. However, the issue remains contentious, with the former chief scientist Sir David King saying culling has a part to play.
A cull ordered by the Welsh Assembly has been dogged by controversy and legal challenge, costing the taxpayer £57,000. In July, the Badger Trust, which opposes any cull, won a court appeal to halt a planned cull of 1,500 badgers in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion.
The coalition is braced for a challenge in England, where the cull is likely to be larger. Earlier this year, the Farming minister Jim Paice stressed the need for civil servants to “get absolutely everything sorted before we commence” because campaigners would challenge the plan through judicial review. “We must make sure that either they are convinced they can’t win, or we win if it does go to review,” he said.
Earlier this year, researchers from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London suggested repeated culling of badgers reduces the incidence of TB in cattle, but the benefits disappeared four years after the programme ended.
To cull or not to cull?
Sir David King, the former chief scientist, believed the high cost of a cull would be offset by the reduction in TB.
Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said of a decision not to cull: “This is devastating for the farming families whose lives and businesses are being ruined by TB in cattle.”
A 2008 study by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB said culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to controlling the disease.
An Imperial College London and Zoological Society London study found the practice to be cost-ineffective.
Government trials have concluded that culling only works over more than 300sq km, otherwise badgers just move.
By Matt Chorley, Political correspondent
The Welsh Assembly Government plans to kill badgers in a vain attempt to eradicate cattle Tb. See http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/?lang=en
Badger Trust http://www.badger.org.uk/Content/Home.asp
Save the Badger http://www.savethebadger.com/
Back off Badgers http://www.backoffbadgers.org.uk/