Thursday, 2 January 2014

Still bonkers!

I’ve consistently described the badger cull as bonkers. First, because there is a huge amount of contradictory evidence about whether badgers give TB to cattle or cattle give it to badgers. Secondly, because there is also no scientific evidence that culling badgers actually deals with the problem of TB in cattle; indeed a past trial showed it could actually make things worse.

Now we have the proof that the badger cull has been a complete humiliation for the government, who have turned their backs on evidence-based policy. It has been bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers, and bad for wildllife.

Not only have the pilot culls been incredibly ineffective, they may have actually increased Bovine TB in and around the pilot areas. According to leading independent scientists, the decision to extend the cull together with the failure to cull 70% of the population may have increased the spread of Bovine TB through badger ‘perturbation’. Culling low numbers of badgers, over a prolonged period, during the winter months, is associated with increased TB.

In October this year, commenting on the complete failure to get anywhere near the 70% figure, the Secretary of State Owen Patterson said that ‘the badgers have moved the goalposts.’ He might as well have said ‘the badgers have removed my brain cells’!

Now we have even more confirmation that the very basis of these pilot culls, that badgers are the major cause of transmitting TB to cattle, is flawed. This government has repeatedly over-played the extent to which badgers are responsible for spreading TB across England. Recent research by Prof. Christl Donnelly showed that herd-to-herd transmission of bovine TB in cattle accounts for 94% of cases, while around 6% of infected cattle catch TB directly from badgers. Far from badgers spreading TB, it appears that it is overwhelmingly due to cattle movements.

So, the government needs to stop all cull activity, review the scientific evidence, publish all the documentation – including the costs – of pursuing its flawed policy to date, and start to work to work with farmers, wildlife groups and leading scientists to take forward an alternative strategy to eradicate Bovine TB. This would include tackling TB in badgers focussed on badger vaccination; and enhanced cattle measures, including compulsory post-movement testing, a comprehensive risk-based trading system, and more robust bio-security on farms.

Make everyone a little happier Mr Patterson, by making this your New Year’s Resolution.