Monday, September 24, 2012

GUEST POST The case against the badger cull

The cull is bad science and bad politics, says The Badger Protection League

Bovine TB is a serious problem but it must be remembered that it is a cattle disease. The TB skin test is only 80 per cent sensitive (i.e. accurate in picking out animals that are genuine infected). It misses up to 20 per cent of infected animals and these remain within the herd to continue to spread TB.

For this reason, elsewhere in Europe the test is used only as a herd test and the whole herd will be culled rather than just the individuals found to be positive.

There have been two large increases in Bovine TB in cattle over the years; in the 1990s BSE killed 819,500 cattle. Similarly, in 2001 a foot and mouth outbreak killed over 600,000 cattle and in both cases in the urgency to replace them, cattle were moved around the country even before the TB testing had caught up with the back log.

Lord Krebs who advised on this worrying issue created the randomised badger culling trial (RBCT). This was the largest experiment in the world on bovine TB examining the role that badgers play in infecting cattle. The trial lasted eight years, cost the tax payer over £53m and killed 11,000 badgers. It was overseen by the Independent Scientific Group and peer reviewed and no substantial or respectable body of science have contradicted their conclusions.

Important points from the RBCT conclusions:
"Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the future control of cattle TB in Britain."
"Substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures."
"It is unfortunate that agricultural and veterinary leaders continue to believe, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, that the main approach to cattle TB control must involve some form of badger population control."
The government is now being selective in what science they choose to believe. They admit that even after nine years of badger culling they can only expect a 12-16 per cent reduction in TB outbreaks in cattle.

In fact they are basing their estimates on the RBCT but there are several large differences:
  1. They will shoot free-running badgers with high velocity rifles. The badger is a small, compact animal, difficult to shoot cleanly - even the deer trust does not allow shooting at night as it is too dangerous.
  2. They will be killing for a period of six weeks whereas the RBCT was only killing for 12 days.
  3. They must kill 70 per cent of the badgers without causing local extinction but the population is unknown (and unsurveyed) so how is this possible?
Lord Krebs himself has stated that rather than achieving the 12-16 per cent estimate, they actually risk making the problem worse. It will also cost farmers much more than it saves.

Science tells us that a cull will increase bovine TB in cattle in the first few years and indeed increase the level of TB in the remaining badger population. This experiment will measure only whether free shooting is humane, effective (at killing enough badgers) and viable (it will not test its effect on bovine TB). Yet wounded badgers will make their way to their setts and never be found.

With approximately 60 shooters required to cover the area of land issued with a licence using ammunition that can travel up to two miles if missing the target, there is a also a safety issue for humans, farm animals and wildlife.

Once more the badger will be the scapegoat for an ill-conceived election promise by both Conservatives and Liberals. This is a purely political act which will potentially kill 130,000 badgers, 85 per cent of which are likely to be healthy.

People must not underestimate the number of farmers that are against the cull of badgers and keen to protect them, believing that vaccination of badgers is the answer. Particularly in the South West where many farmers rely on tourism - in the form, for instance, of holiday homes and farm produce - as means of making their farms viable.


Pete said...

Good post. However, it is appalling that today Nick Clegg has come out in favour of this barbaric and unscientic slaughter of badgers. Plus David Heath, new Lib Dem Minister at Defra also fully supports it.
Frankly, I am appalled at the Lib Dems who used to be a part you could trust on science and animal welfare. Just how low can the party now stoop in this awful Tory-led government? I live in a Lib Dem marginal seat but I will never vote for the party again after this. You just lost a lot more seats Mr Clegg.

crewegwyn said...

Surely the whole point of the pilot culling programme is to try to assess whether some of the concerns are justified?

Making the assumption that culling will never, ever have a beneficial effect is surely itself 'bad science'?

Alison said...

1000s of bagders died as part of the ISG study which showed that 'badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the control of BTB'. That is the scientific evidence and is why Lord Krebs, who designed the study, describes this coalition govt 'pilot' as 'crazy'. I actually think the agenda of this awful government is to do away with all protection for our wildlife. It is government by and for the bloodsports lobby.

Anonymous said...

Message to the Lib Dems

Following the statement today from Nick Clegg and David Heath (see below) I am afraid you have now lost my vote. I shall also encourage other animal welfare campaigners to actively campaign against the Liberal Democrats in across the country.
This is the only option left to us when we see the Lib Dems conspiring with the Tories to launch an all out war on our wildlife. It is quite clear that unless this government is removed from office then the future for our wildlife is very bleak indeed.

This decision by the Lib Dems to support the slaughter and maiming of thousands of badgers is nothing short of a disgrace which is a step too far for the great many people who voted for you at the last election in order to stop the Tories bringing in this kind of appalling attack on British wildlife.
It flies in the face of one of the biggest independent scientific studies of its kind ever carried out.
It will result in countless badgers suffering a lingering death as injured animals will flee into their setts.

I feel quite ashamed to have given the Lib Dems my vote in 2010. Never again. I am far from alone in this.

David said...

Lord Arran promoted two bills in the House of Lords; one became the Sexual Offences Act 1967, the other protecting badgers against hunting failed. Arran commented mystified "An awful lot of chaps supported by bill on buggers, very few the one on badgers". A fellow peer pointed out that there were no badgers in the House of Lords.

Meribel said...

I can only echo the comments of the poster who voted for you in 2010. If I'd known about the badger cull I wouldnt have voted for you then either. I wont again unless you come out and stop this before its too late. Too late is when large armed humans open fire on small creatures tempted out by bait. Not sentimental: fact. We do love the wildlife we still have we will defend them. Its been hatched by NFU/DEFRA in secret, almost no scientist outside govt backs it. Its sickening. What is the matter with you people!?