Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle
TB control in Britain, the
Governments Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine tuberculosis
(TB) said today, in its
final report  which has been welcomed by the Badger Trust.
Instead, the scientists advise that:
[TB] can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the
rigid application of cattle-based
control measures alone.
The report is the culmination of ten years of scientific research,
costing 50 million. Almost 11,000 badgers were killed in the Randomised
Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), also known as the Krebs trial after
Professor Sir John Krebs who proposed it.
The team of scientists, from Britains top universities, concludes
that although badgers contribute to cattle TB, [culling] policies
under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than
better. The scientists point out that only 14 new cases of TB were
prevented in herds, despite five years of coordinated and sustained
badger culling across 1,000km2 [1, p21] that removed approximately
73 per cent of the badgers [1, p69]. The small beneficial effect
on the incidence of TB results in a cost-benefit analysis which
shows that it seems unlikely [that culling] would be worthwhile
under any economic conditions [1, p159].
Instead, the ISG advises that substantial reductions in TB can
be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures: Such measures
include the introduction of more thorough controls on cattle movement
through zoning or herd attestation, strategic use of the IFN [gamma
interferon blood] test in both routine and pre-movement testing,
quarantine of purchased cattle, shorter testing intervals, careful
attention to breakdowns in areas that are currently low risk, and
whole herd slaughter for chronically affected herds [1,
p21 and Chapters 7 and 10].
Trevor Lawson, spokesperson for the Badger Trust, said: Killing
badgers is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, doing far
more harm than good. A less brutish approach to the small role
played by badgers, such as electric fencing around farm buildings,
might well yield greater benefits at a fraction of the cost.
TB in cattle will reduce TB in badgers, further reducing the risk
to cattle [1, p21]. These are constructive, win-win solutions that
are good for farming, for wildlife and for tax payers. The challenge
now is for farmers and vets to see the sense of implementing them.
The Government now has the sound science that it promised to base
its TB policy on. The ISGs research has been rubber-stamped by
the worlds leading scientists in the worlds leading peer-reviewed
The challenge for David Miliband is to implement effective TB
controls on cattle without plunging farmers into bankruptcy. Constructive
support measures for farmers will be essential, because there are
thousands of undiagnosed, infected cattle out there. Removing them
will mean medium-term pain for the Treasury and significant difficulties
for a minority of farmers. But the science is crystal clear: that
is the only way forwards.
1. Bourne, J. et al (2007), Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence
- A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle;
An Epidemiological Investigation into Bovine Tuberculosis, Final
Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB Defra,
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