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Badgers and TB

The History

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 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 urged 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 stressed it is not just their problem, but looked 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 for England that many consider flawed. It concluded that another series of culling trials should be carried out, initially, to determine whether baiting and free shooting was humane and effective. It said that it was not against vaccination, but believes that the approach will be more successful when an edible formulation becomes available to supplant the existing injectable dose but this could take 4 or 5 years. Trials by the Gloucester Wildlife Trust and in other areas indicate injecting is viable but is more expensive than culling.  
Briefly, in our adjacent countries – Scotland is free of bTB. Wales and Northern Ireland are vaccinating badgers. ireland is snaring then shooting badgers. This has reduced bTB by an insignificant amount at enormous cost to the Irish taxpayer. It is hoped that their vaccination trials will convince them that that their current costly cruel policy can stop.
Everyone appears to be moving towards vaccination as the effective, humane means of reducing bTB, coupled with getting all farmers to adhere to stringent controls on the testing and movement of cattle and to adopt better bio-security and husbandry. Unfortunately farmers do not want to spend money while they can maintain the misguided belief that there is a cheaper alternative – culling badgers. Equally unfortunately Coalition politicians see culling as a quick fix.


The situation in September 2013The Shame

Pat Williams of the West Surrey Badger Group created this picture to represent the scandalous loss of badger life.

The origin and background of the following articles and updates on the current  position can be found on the Badger Trust website www.badgertrust.org.uk

 

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.

Badger culling pilot trial abandoned
Mr Owen Paterson, the Coalition and the cattle industry have wasted the lives of many hundreds of badgers and have suffered a humiliating and inevitable setback with the reported abandonment this weekend of extended badger killing in Gloucestershire.

The controversial free shooting method used departed far beyond any scientific precedent and even beyond its own original terms of reference. Cage trapping and shooting in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial lasted only 11 days, but Ministers and officials said on 6 occasions that 6 weeks would be necessary for the pilot trials. They then extended them to 9 weeks in Somerset and a disgraceful 14 weeks in Gloucestershire.

Natural England is responsible for issuing the culling licences, but its board was divided when it recently decided to allow the two-month extension of the Gloucestershire culling period. This was against the advice of Prof. David Macdonald, chairman of its Science Advisory Committee and a board member.

The Badger Trust, which has been in constant communication with Natural England and Defra, eventually received the minutes of the meeting disclosed under the Environmental Information Regulations. As recently as Tuesday November 26, the Trust was pressing for the numbers slaughtered to be revealed.

Prof. Macdonald, of Oxford University, told The Guardian last month: "My personal opinion as a biologist [is] not to continue the cull. One could not have significant comfort that the original proposals would deliver gains to farmers. Extending the cull would make the outcome even less predictable and even more unpromising."

David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “This ill-advised cut-rate shambles has involved miscalculation of badger populations, manipulated time scales, huge expense for the taxpayer in policing costs, and the fiasco of repeatedly-missed targets. If it was not so serious it would be comical and should never have happened in the first place”.

If culling is rolled out in affected areas of England next year as threatened it would have to be by the cage trapping and shooting method at up to ten times the cost to farmers.

 

What Mr Paterson did not say about bovine TB

The Defra Secretary of State has told MPs a string of whopping half-truths about his campaign on bovine TB (bTB). David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust said: “Once again Mr Paterson’s serious omissions give the impression that he is thinking it all up as he goes along”. Mr Williams fills in the parts Mr Paterson left out.

1.     Mr Paterson said in answer to a Question on November 21st: “I wish we could go back to the bipartisan approach of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when we got this disease beaten – we got it down to 0.01%”.
  He failed to say that this was achieved by rigorous area-by-area cattle movement controls and rigorous annual  testing.
  There was no assault on wildlife of the kind he is now inflicting on badgers.

2.     The Secretary of State told an even worse half-truth: “. . . we are following the science from Australia, which is TB-free; we are following the science from New Zealand, which is down from 1,763
infected herds to 66;
  He failed to say the UK brought the number of cattle slaughtered down from 25,000 in 1950 to 2,081 in 1970 without
  any slaughter of  wildlife, and the toll remained below that level for 20 years. The low point was 513 in one year. That
  was a reduction of 98% compared with 94% in New Zealand, which slaughtered possums.

3.     Mr Paterson  said the Coalition was following the science from the Republic of Ireland, where reactors were down from 40,000 to 18,500.
  He ignored Northern Ireland which also halved the number of cattle lost over an equivalent period of nine years,
  but did so without killing wildlife. Robust cattle control programmes, the real solution, were imposed in all the countries
  he mentioned, but were recklessly abandoned in the UK.

4.    He praised those who conducted the cull in Somerset, and said they were convinced there had been a significant reduction in the number of diseased badgers.
   He failed to explain that shot badgers carcasses were not being tested for bTB and did not explain how anyone knew
   there had been a significant reduction in diseased  badgers.

Ed: Can we expect another set of half truths to justify continuing the cull in other parts of the country?

Shutting the cowshed door after the plague got in
The Badger Trust welcomes the recent flurry of announcements of measures under consideration to control transmission of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) between cattle and between camelids and alpacas, but deplores the 20-year delay in producing them. Crucially Defra is proposing to impose a zero tolerance policy on English farmers with overdue herd tests.

David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “Overdue tests have been a scandal for decades. The cattle industry has stubbornly resisted sensible restrictions on cattle management since the catastrophic rise in bTB began in the early 1990s. Farmers used badgers as scapegoats while they dug their heels in against better regulation of markets and abattoirs, more frequent and improved testing, pre-movement testing and comprehensive biosecurity on farms.

“If the measures we had listed been in place when the cattle toll averaged a 1,000 a year it would never have risen to its present level of almost 30,000.

From next year farmers who have not arranged for bTB surveillance and check tests to be carried out by the due date will face cuts to their subsidies. The level of reduction will depend on the length of time the test was overdue.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, admitted in a Commons statement on November 28th that he was addressing a number of “long-standing weaknesses in our bovine TB controls”. Some of these weaknesses were strengthened a year ago, but only at the insistence of the EU. They included annual testing in the south west of England and zoning restrictions.
He proposes consultations on various proposals rather than acting on any of them – action that should have been taken years ago.  He also proposes the pre-movement testing exemption for movements of cattle to and from common land. Also, the lifting of bovine TB restrictions on parts of a restricted holding could be phased out. In future the whole of a holding would be either restricted or officially TB free at any one time. Farmers would be “encouraged” to share details of the disease history of any cattle they sell so buyers would be finally better able to manage any disease risks.

Biosecurity study in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has published the results of a two-year study of farm biosecurity measures to assess badger- and cattle-related risk factors for bovine TB breakdowns and the associated biosecurity measures. It recommends further investigation of specific areas such as the potential role of contiguous spread across farm boundaries and greater exploration of the role of cattle movement is recommended.  The report also says farmers should be encouraged to use established biosecurity measures to separate badgers and cattle. The majority of farm boundaries in the study area would have facilitated nose-to-nose contact with cattle on neighbouring farms and the survey team recommends closed herds or pre- and/or post- movement bTB testing and isolation of purchased animals.

Alpacas and llamas
In yet another much-needed improvement Defra is “seeking the views” of alpaca and llama owners by  January 10th 2014 about how more could be done to prevent the spread of bovine TB in and among herds but any measures will still only be voluntary, so failing to close yet another gap in security.

The situation in January 2014

The following is based on an article in MailOnline by Fiona Macrae.  6.1.14
She quotes from figures released by the animal charity ‘Care for the Wild’. It described the cull as 'one of the most disastrous and expensive in history'
Care of the Wild pieced together the cull's cost from answers to parliamentary questions, statistics from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and Freedom of Information requests.
This put the total cost for at £7.3 million or £4,121 for each of the 1,771 dead badgers. The taxpayer would have picked up the bulk of this - some £5.8 million.

This included £2.66 million for policing the culls, which attracted protestors, and included the cost of overtime, helicopters and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Another £3.2 million is estimated to have been spent by Defra and other Government departments on projects including pinpointing the location of badger setts and monitoring the cull's humaneness. Farmers, who paid for the marksmen, were billed an estimated £1.49 million.

Care for the Wild has also calculated that if the culls are run annually for four years, as planned, the total bill will come to £19 million.

However, even if the cull did lead to a drop in TB among cattle, the taxpayer's bill, including compensation for cattle that have to be destroyed, would only fall by £2.5 million.
Dominic Dyer, the charity's policy advisor, said: Taxpayers will not benefit from badgers being killed, the badgers certainly won't benefit - and neither will the farmers because culling was always going to be a costly failure.
'It's time the Government realised that.'

The National Farmers' Union said: 'If marksmen had been allowed to go about their lawful business, there wouldn't have been any policing costs.'

Ed: You do the maths!  We await the defra report on whether it has been humane and effective – I cannot say that I have much faith in this being accurate and its conclusions meaningful.  Now at the start of 2014 as the breeding season gets under way and culling cannot proceed, the situation is still far from safe for our badgers:
The Coalitions still seems intent on bowing to pressure from the farming community to roll out an extensive cull in bTB high risk areas later this year.
Suggestions of using gas as a more effective means of culling have been put forward.
Vaccination trials are ongoing.
● We must remain alert.