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Badgers and TB
The History up to 2011
Historically tuberculosis (TB) is a much feared respiratory disease. Cattle can be infected by a bacterium called mycobacterium bovis (m.bovis). This is the same bacterium that can infect humans and badgers. Humans drinking untreated milk which had come from cattle with lesions on their udders led to them contracting TB. However most milk now is pasteurised and the chance of a member of the public catching TB is 1 in 2 million.
In 1935 at least 40% of cows in dairy herds had TB.
By 1960 a testing programme had reduced it to one herd in 50, but TB has never been completely eradicated, being a persistent problem particularly in South-West England.
In 1971 a dead badger on a Gloucestershire farm was found to have died of advanced TB. On looking into this further the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) decided TB was so well established in badgers that steps should be taken against badgers where they were seen to be a threat to cattle, i.e., the badgers should be killed. The 1973 Badgers Act allowed licences to be issued for just that purpose. It may seem incredible now but the preferred method of killing badgers then was by gassing, a process some farmers still advocate.
Over the years various reports have been commissioned to study the issues and come up with recommendations regarding the problem of TB, cattle and badgers.
In 1980 Lord Zuckerman concluded in his report that badgers did constitute a significant reservoir of bovine TB and that MAFF should carry on killing badgers, but not by gassing them. He also recommended a policy review in the future which led to the Dunnet Report in 1986. This report, while it implicated badgers in the TB outbreaks in the South-West of England did say it was not desirable to kill large numbers of healthy badgers in the process of trying to control TB. It is only after killing a badger and conducting a post mortem that it can be ascertained if it had TB. The report also recommended a test be developed that would detect TB in living badgers. By this time millions of pounds of taxpayers' money had been spent in MAFF's TB eradication policy, and thousands of badgers had been killed, most of them being free of TB. After the Dunnet Report it was accepted that complete eradication of TB was not a feasible aim.
Moving forward to 1996 a review was commissioned by the Government to investigate the link between TB and cattle and badgers. This review was chaired by Professor, now Lord, Krebs. A year later the Krebs Report concluded that "the sum of evidence strongly supports the view that in Britain badgers are a significant source of (TB) infection in cattle, although evidence is all indirect". The report suggested as there was a lack of scientific data that a Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) be set up to see what effect killing badgers had on TB in cattle. The method of doing this was via the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) chaired by Professor Bourne, who set up a scheme intended to run for five years from December 1998. The idea was to select ten areas where TB in cattle had been relatively high in recent times. Within each area chosen there were to be three different strategies, one for each of three so-called "triplets". "Pro-active" culling involved killing all the badgers in one triplet and then keeping that triplet clear of badgers for the rest of the trial. A second triplet would have "re-active" culling, i.e. killing all badgers associated with farms where TB had been confirmed. The third triplet was to have no badger killing at all. The point of this exercise was to monitor the levels of TB in cattle in the study areas to measure the effects of the three different strategies.
By November 2003 the then Animal Health and Welfare Minister, Ben Bradshaw, accepted the advice of the ISG and had to announce the suspension of "re-active" culling. The ISG had concluded that re-active culling could not be justified on scientific grounds. The culling actually increased TB infection in cattle in the surrounding areas by destabilising the badger population, thus weakening the group's immunity and making them less resistant to disease. What is known as the "perturbation effect", where unsettled neighbouring badgers moved into vacant territory. These exposed the badgers and cattle to further infection. So the negative effects of killing badgers exceeded the limited benefits. The conclusion drawn was that it was better to concentrate on cattle controls. The National Federation of Badger Groups (now known as Badger Trust) stated that the link between bovine TB in badgers and cattle could not be broken by killing badgers.
In December 2005 the government announced new measures to tackle TB in cattle and this included a twelve week consultation on badger culling. The outcome was remarkable. There were 47,000 responses via letter and e-mail, thirteen petitions against a cull containing 12,100 signatures and there were 10,000 text messages. Of those numbers 4% of the total supported a cull, 0.4% were neutral, and 95.6% (45,415) were against a cull. Authoritative organisations such as The Mammal Society, Woodland Trust, The Royal Society, RSPCA, and Wildlife Trusts expressed their grave reservations about culling.
On 7th July 2008 Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, announced that a wholesale cull of badgers was not going to be part of the government's new package of measures to try to control TB in cattle. He announced the setting up of a Bovine TB Partnership Group which is intended to focus on other measures to control the disease, and vaccination is high on the list. This announcement rather leaves Elin Jones, Rural Affairs Minister in Wales out on a limb. In 2008 she issued a statement to the National Assembly for Wales about her plans for a TB eradication programme. What she said was widely interpreted as authorising a badger cull. Badger Trust made the opening moves to have this decision judicially reviewed and the Welsh Assembly Legal Services Department had the task of trying to explain what the Minister had really meant by her announcement as opposed to what just about everyone had interpreted her to mean. Apparently she had not made a decision to kill badgers in Wales after all. However, her statement and that of Mr Benn do make for interesting comparison.
The above paragraphs give a flavour of just how complex and contentious the issue of badgers, cattle and TB is. Tens of thousands of badgers have been killed over the last 30 years, many of them inhumanely, in pursuit of data and solutions to the problem of controlling TB. However, TB in cattle has not decreased in this time, it has increased.
Do badgers give TB to cattle? Cattle give TB to cattle and there is a strong case for saying - cattle give TB to badgers. When badgers and Cattle in the same area have TB, it is not proof that the badgers infected the cattle. Very few badgers in fact have TB. Of those that have, fewer still are infectious. Infectious badgers or cattle pass the bacteria out through their urine, faeces, or even their breath. These bacteria can then be picked up by other animals. The scope for passing on the infection in pasture shared by badgers and cattle is clear, but as is pointed out above, tens of thousands of badgers killed in the last 30 years or so has to be looked at against the statistic that TB in cattle in the same period has increased.
At last we seem to have reached the stage where the decision-makers can see that all the killing has proved is that killing badgers is not the solution. Other issues that have to be addressed include the quality of animal husbandry practised by some farmers. If this is of a poor standard it can allow badgers into farm buildings, water troughs, cattle feed areas and so on.
The unreliability of the TB test in cattle is another factor to be addressed.
The dreadful outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease produced some interesting side effects. TB testing was suspended during the epidemic. Many cattle were kept indoors together, so that infectious cattle could infect others. Later, when TB testing resumed, more cattle were found to have TB. Farmers re-stocking after losing cattle through Foot and Mouth bought untested cattle some of whom were carrying TB. This helped to spread the disease to previously TB free areas. Throughout that period badgers were not moving around Britain, so it is difficult to see how those new outbreaks of TB could be blamed on them.
No-one can ignore the effect on farmers of losing cattle to TB or suspected TB (cattle found to be infected with TB must be slaughtered and movement restrictions are put in place), and looking for a scapegoat is a natural reaction. However, it is illogical and against sound science to simply blame badgers. All the scientific advice, with the exception of one hurriedly compiled and universally condemned report (the author of which has been described by Lord Krebs as "isolated"), is that culling badgers makes no meaningful contribution to controlling TB in cattle. The advice is that more stringent TB testing will help to control the disease. Statistically, moving cattle on to a farm is the biggest risk factor for a herd acquiring TB. That is not a badger-related risk. Mr Benn has flagged up the need for farmers to take responsibility for the burden of TB control. Defra advised that farmers should try to prevent contact between cattle on neighbouring farms, and that the cattle coming on to farms are healthy. They also urge that strict biosecurity measures are implemented, that cattle are bought from tested herds which are shown to be disease free and that farmers seek veterinary advice to address the health and welfare needs of their herds. The government stress it is not just their problem, but look for contributions from farmers, vets, and wildlife groups. Cattle movements substantially and consistently outweigh all other factors in predicting TB outbreaks.
If you have got this far then you are clearly interested in getting to grips with understanding what is a complex problem for the farming industry and, as a result, for the future safety and welfare of badgers. There is a wealth of detailed information available on websites. One such is Badger Trust at. www.badgertrust.org.uk where amongst other things you can read detailed comment on the anti-badger announcements of the Farmers Union, the NFU. Another site with detailed information and access to reports is the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) site at www.defra.gov.uk where you need to look for the Animal health and welfare pages.
Ed: When the coalition came to power the situation changed dramatically. The UK Government carried out a second consultation on culling proposals for England that many consider flawed. It concluded that another series of culling trials should be carried out. It pointed out that it was not against the alternative of vaccination, but believes that the approach will have much more success when an edible formulation becomes available to supplant the existing injectable dose but this could take another 4 or 5 years. Trials by the Gloucester Wildlife Trust indicate injecting is viable but more expensive culling, all other considerations apart.
The situation in September 2012
Badger culling folly:
Following a closely fought 2-day Judicial Review in June, the High Court decided NOT to quash the Coalition Government’s proposal to kill badgers in England. Consequently the Coalition Government has gone ahead with its decision to authorise a cull of badgers in the West country. On our behalf, the Badger Trust has been challenging the decision through the courts and will continue to oppose it whenever and wherever it can. The arguments have been well covered in these pages and in the media.
See below to see how you can enter your name on the Petition posted by Dr Brian May on the HM Government e-petition site.
Badger Trust will surely be in need of extra funds. If you are able to help them with money –
please send it to Badger trust, PO box 708, East Grinstead, East Sussex RH19 2WN.
The first licence for a large-scale cull of Badgers in England has been issued
The first licence for a large-scale cull of badgers in England has been issued, allowing the animals to be killed over a 300 km2 area in west Gloucestershire.
The government hopes it is the first of many licences and that the death of an estimated 100,000 badgers will help curb the scourge of TB in cattle, which led to 26,000 cows being slaughtered in 2011. Asked if the granting of the license was a positive first step in a nationwide roll out of the cull, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, said: "Yes, I very much hope so."
Badgers can carry bovine TB but the scientists who led a decade long trial of culling concluded it could make "no meaningful contribution", and was "not an effective way" to control the disease. "In pursuing this nonsensical policy, the government appears to have scant regard for scientific evidence, animal welfare or wildlife protection, and is betraying farmers with a bloody and pointless slaughter that will not solve their problem," said Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of Humane Society International. HSI has lodged a complaint against the government with the Bern Convention, a European treaty to protect wildlife. The Badger Trust has also pledged to pursue any legal route to challenge culling licences.
Paterson, a strong supporter of the cull, said: "I want to see a prosperous, healthy badger population living alongside healthy cattle. We would all like to have a vaccine but we have not got one. So we should use the measures used effectively in other countries to bear down on the disease in wildlife and in cattle." The previous Labour government said an oral badger vaccine would be ready by 2015. The coalition cancelled five of six trials of injectable vaccines, and said a viable oral vaccine was "years away".
The RSPB said that they would be vaccinating badgers on its land at Highnam Woods in Gloucestershire, which lies just outside the newly licenced culling zone. "The dairy industry has endured terrible times while trying to cope with this devastating disease," said the RSPB's Martin Harper. "However, we have never been convinced that the best way to help farmers is to force them to foot the bill for a contentious cull that is only expected to reduce outbreaks by about 16%. This is a lot of effort for a small gain. Bovine TB needs tackling properly and we believe vaccination offers the best hope for cattle, badgers and the industry."
The decade-long trial indicated that if heavy culling was continued for years, then a 16% drop in bovine TB cases could be seen. But the new culls will use a different killing method and the cull in Gloucestershire, and one expected in Somerset, are intended to test whether the less expensive shooting of free-running animals is as effective as the cage-trapping and shooting used before.
The issuing of the licence by Natural England means that groups of farmers and landowners can cull over a continuous six-week period every year for the next four years and have to kill at least 70% of the local population. "Maximum numbers will be specified to prevent the risk of local extinction," said a statement from Natural England.
Sir David Attenborough and Simon King OBE have expressed their extreme sadness at the Coalition Government’s plans to shoot badgers this autumn in England despite overwhelming scientific evidence against culling as a solution to bTB in cattle.
Their remarks follow the news on September 17th that Natural England had issued the first licence for a pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire, and planned to issue a second for Somerset shortly. They added: “Even Lord Krebs has described the proposed cull as ‘crazy’ “. Lord Krebs designed the £50 million culling trials of 1998-2007 and is now Principal of Jesus College, Oxford.
Sir David Attenborough and Simon King OBE say: “We are extremely saddened by the Government’s determination to proceed with culling when there are alternatives that could meet multiple policy objectives – reduce bTB in badgers and cattle AND prevent the unnecessary killing and maiming of one of Britain’s best loved wild mammals”. They point out that wildlife filmmakers in this country have spent the last six decades trying to inspire and promote understanding and respect for wildlife both nationally and internationally. They ask, “How can we now expect any other nation, especially a poor developing country, to conserve its wildlife whenever there is a conflict with short-term economic and political interests?”
The Chairman of the Badger Trust, David Williams, stresses: “Badgers have been killed since 1975 to stop the spread of bTB and the scientific data shows, repeatedly, that it just does not work”.
Many leading scientists have stated that a cull this autumn will not work and may even increase the spread of bTB. Since 2007, the majority of scientists have advocated the vaccination of badgers and ultimately of cattle as a far better and more cost-effective option. They are surprised that successive Governments have not embraced this approach more whole-heartedly and the Badger Trust regularly hears from scientists that it has been like banging their heads against a brick wall.
The Badger Trust is adamant that the UK Government should be leading the world by example at a time when wild species across the planet are declining rapidly. It should apply win-win solutions such as vaccination that balance the needs of farmers, badgers and the public interest. Instead it chooses to press ahead with killing thousands if not hundreds of thousands of one of Britain’s most iconic wild species. This is despite the deep reservations of scientists and 69 per cent of the public who responded to the Coalition’s own consultation.
Chris Packham, the broadcaster and naturalist, has joined the Badger Trust’s campaign and says: “This is the darkest day for badgers in Britain and a shameful one for all of us. Britain prides itself on its excellence in the field of science and technology, and yet science is being forsaken and badgers are about to be sacrificed for no apparent sensible reason. It’s simply unforgivable.”
Dr. Brian May calls for milk boycott
A COALITION led by the RSPCA and rock star Brian May have called on consumers to boycott milk from areas where badger cull trials are being planned.
Animal rights campaigners are determined to halt the trials through protests at the cull sites, whose location is not being made public. Volunteers plan to patrol the zones and stop the badgers coming into the open.
STOP THE BADGER CULL
Please sign the Petition posted by Brian May on the HM Government e-petition site on 07/09/2012. The target to achieve 100,000 signatures in order to request a debate in Parliament has been reached but this does not mean the request will be granted. More signatures could help sway the decision.
The Petition can only be signed once, electronically.
There is no equivalent paper petition, so please do it now!
The fourth paragraph should read - "The method of free shooting badgers could cause severe pain to many thousands of badgers." The missing word shown in bold was noticed too late for the text to be changed but should not affect the integrity of the petition.
Please Sign Now!
This picture is a poignant symbol of the future for Britain’s badgers as reported in these pages.
Their hope must be that Britain will come to accept that culling is NOT the answer to the bTB problem in cattle.
Pat Williams of West Surrey Badger Group painted the picture.
Copies of this postcard in colour are available from WSBG at a
cost of £2 ea. plus p&p.
To order contact WSBG by
Phone 07768 518064 or
Further Reaction to the Cull
Letter from Raymond Ings MSc BSc MI Biol CI Biol Dip Eco &Con,
Chairman East Surrey Badger Protection Society
to Hon Sam Gyimah MP House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA 14th October 2012
Dear Mr Gyimah
Badger cull utterly devoid of scientific justification
Before I get onto the above theme of this letter let me first congratulate you on you recent appointment of PPS to the Prime Minister. This is indeed quite a promotion and must be indicative of your performance and standing as an MP.
I have written to you before on this issue. I wrote then as I do now as both a constituent and the Chairman of the East Surrey Badger Protection Society. We have several hundred members who are also your constituents. I was one of the founding members of the Badger Trust the origin of which was the White Barn in Goldstone in 1986. So the roots of the campaign to protect badgers is your own constituency, not sure what the Prime Minister would make of that! I am a qualified and published animal welfare scientist and served as an advisor to DEFRA in this role from 2001 – 2009 as well as having a diploma (with honours) in Conservation from the University of London. I therefore know something of the issues regarding the badger cull.
I enclose two press articles (there could have been many more) (Ed: Only 1 is included here.) that go to the heart of the above title. In essence there is a virtual consensus from expert scientific opinion that the badger cull is not the way forward and indeed may well exacerbate the problem of TB in cattle. So my question is what politicians know that these 20 plus top flight eminent academic experts don’t. I have never seen a letter addressed to a national newspaper like this before and if this doesn’t set the alarm bells ringing in Westminster then there is something badly wrong with Westminster. As far as the scientific justification for cull is concerned the game is well and truly up. To continue now solely on the basis of appeasing the vociferous and ill informed NFU who are badly serving the farmers they purport to represent would be utter folly both from a scientific and political basis. This is a big time vote loser and there are many excellent Conservatives who care about animal welfare (including your MP colleagues) who know this and are against the cull. There is even a group in your party called blue badger who is appalled at the prospect of the cull. There are already a number of Conservative controlled local authorities in the culling area who are strongly opposed to the cull. This is nothing short of political suicide and it going to get a lot worse if the cull goes ahead.
As well as the information contained in the press articles enclosed The European Commission looked at the TB status of EU cattle and found a catalogue of failures in how England’s farmers prevent their cattle spreading TB to other cattle (Guardian 4th October 2012). The report stated ‘ Local Authority surveys provided evidence that some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags ie retaining TB positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place. Poor levels of bio security on farms is the major source of TB cattle infections and the killing of badgers is no more than an futile unscientific and politically motivated side show and it has got to stop.
I hope that your new elevated position might give you an opportunity to inform the Prime Minster that his recent comments that ‘killing badgers will lead to a healthier badger population’ when even in areas of the highest levels of TB in the badger populations 85% of the badgers are TB free, is ill informed and frankly an embarrassment. Who ever advised him on that issue should be show the door.
There will be a debate in the Commons on this issue as the ‘Number 10 Petition’ on this issue has exceeded 150,000 one of the biggest petitions since in the life of this Parliament. I appreciate that your appointment may mean that you have no alternative but to vote for the Government’s disastrous culling policy. If your hands are indeed tied please do you very best to represent my views on this as I firmly believe (as somebody who is horrified by the prospect of the return of the Labour party at the next election) that you do so in the interests of your party, badger welfare and most certainly the farming industry.
Culling badgers could increase the problem of TB in cattle
Badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control
- The Observer, Sunday 14 October 2012
Bovine tuberculosis is a serious problem for UK farmers, deserving the highest standard of evidence-based management. The government's TB-control policy for England includes licensing farmers to cull badgers. As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.
Even if such increases do not materialise, the government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the costs for either farmers or taxpayers. Unfortunately, the imminent pilot culls are too small and too short term to measure the impacts of licensed culling on cattle TB before a wider roll-out of the approach. The necessarily stringent licensing conditions mean that many TB-affected areas of England will remain ineligible for such culling. We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.
We recognise the importance of eradicating bovine TB and agree that this will require tackling the disease in badgers. Unfortunately, culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication. We therefore urge the government to reconsider its strategy.
Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS
University of Cambridge and president of the Zoological Society of London,
and 30 others - (see observer.co.uk/letters)
Professor Mike Begon, University of Liverpool ;
Professor Tim Blackburn, Zoological Society of London ; Professor John Bourne CBE, former Chairman, Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB;
Professor William Sutherland, University of Cambridge;
Professor Terry Burke, University of Sheffield;
Dr Chris Cheeseman, formerly Food & Environment Research Agency; Professor Sarah Cleaveland, University of Glasgow; Professor Tim Clutton Brock FRS, University of Cambridge ;
Professor Andrew Dobson, Princeton University;
Dr Matthew Fisher, Imperial College London;
Dr Trent Garner, Zoological Society of London;
Professor Stephen Harris, University of Bristol;
Professor Daniel Haydon, University of Glasgow; Professor Peter Hudson FRS, Pennsylvania State University; Professor Kate Jones, University College London;
Professor Matt Keeling, University of Warwick;
Professor Richard Kock, Royal Veterinary College;
Professor Lord Krebs Kt FRS, University of Oxford;
Dr Karen Laurenson, Frankfurt Zoological Society;
Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, former chief exec. of the Natural Environment Research Council;
Professor Simon Levin, Princeton University;
Professor Georgina Mace FRS, University College London; Professor Jonna Mazet, University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Professor Lord May OM AC Kt FRS, University of Oxford;
Professor Graham Medley, University of Warwick;
Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland, Imperial College London; Professor Denis Mollison, former Independent Scientific Auditor to the Randomised Badger Culling Trial;
Professor Pej Rohani, University of Michigan;
Dr Tony Sainsbury, Zoological Society of London;
Professor Claudio Sillero, University of Oxford;
Professor Rosie Woodroffe, Zoological Society of London.