30 May 2010

Badger cull must be opposed

badger_small.gifUpdated 6th June 2010 - see bottom of this blog

The Citizen report that the LibCon Government plan to cull badgers in Gloucestershire - this is despite all the evidence showing this will not reduce Tb in cattle in the long term.

Copyright photo: Badger by Tony Evans Nature Picture Library reproduced with permission from Stop War on Badgers

Indeed it was a ten year study that cost an amazing £34m and killed 12,000 badgers that concluded in 2008 that culling simply would not work as a method of controlling Tb. That research showed that not all badgers would be caught in the cull, and the ones which escaped would wander around and spread the disease even more. I have to say I'm not totally convinced by that research but have not seen any evidence to challenge this meaningfully.

As Professor John Bourne, chair of the Independent Scientific Group, said, culling has no part to play in controlling Tb. Labour were at least brave enough to join the Green party and stand by the science and oppose a cull, but still have done too little to tackle Tb.

Over the last few years I have spoken with a number of farmers - some for (like the NFU) and some against a cull - certainly more seem to be for - See local farmer Len Ballingers story here - he was a local farmer whose cattle were the first in Britain to be linked to the theory that bovine tuberculosis comes from badgers and he has since rubbished the connection – and declared his land a "no-kill zone".

Vets also seem to be in favour of a cull and I had a very useful conversations with a local vet and an old school friend who is a vet who works with cattle - their arguments cannot be dismissed lightly but nevertheless I am not convinced that culling will do anything in the longer term.

Pics: campaign in 2006 with me dressed as the badger - see here - and below with kind permission from the artist to reproduce here

I have found very interesting the work of Martin Hancox - a Stroud resident who has devoted much of his life to this topic - see his website here - he raises a useful question - after all this time it is still unclear how badgers are supposed to give cows a respiratory lung infection...it is much easier to see how badgers catch TB FROM cows! Indeed following the label 'badgers' below you will see some previous posts with his questions and research but his website is perhaps the best place to start.

This week there will be a meeting of the local badger group - it is an evening I can't go but hope to feed back on any info about next steps.

Tb is a huge problem

We should in no way underestimate the vast impact it has on our already beleaguered farming communities. Some 40,000 cattle are lost every year and millions of ££££s spent. But culling will not help - even with the complete extermination of our native badgers. As Brian May of Queen (who was in Stroud campaigning with David Drew) said "This is a tragic wrong turn."

Instead we need better testing, better targeted restrictions of cattle movements and more work on vaccinations. This needs action now - for too long have farmers been left to carry the can. See SW Green party news release here.

Lastly see here a video on the attempts to cull badgers in Wales - there the courts decided the cull could go ahead - not based on scientific evidence but rather that it legally could go ahead. Is this a taste of what we will see in Gloucestershire?

Update 6th June 2010

Fi Macmillan wrote a letter on this to the local papers which prompted this reply from the local Badger group:

To the Editor

With regard to Fi Macmillan’s letter on badgers Stroud Life, June 2nd, I was shocked to read a Green councilor repeating the theory that, during culls, escaping badgers ‘spread the disease even more’.

It’s time people stopped repeating this DEFRA idea, and realised that very few badgers actually have contagious TB. The theory may have served to delay culling in the past, but unfortunately it implies that TB is rife in badgers and they spread it wherever they go.

During the 1998 Krebs trials when 11,000 badgers were killed, only 166 were found to have had advanced lesions which MIGHT have been a risk to cattle, though how infection is supposed to take place when TB occurs in the lung in cows, and in the gut in badgers has never been explained.

Actually, MAFF(DEFRA) admitted in 1982 that it was easier to explain how cattle pass TB to badgers than how badgers could give cows a respiratory lung infection. And at a consultative panel meeting in 1992, MAFF’s John Wilesmith said that if badger to cattle transfer happens at all, it’s such a rare event as to be little practical relevance.

I’m indebted to Martin Hancox,BSc and BSc Hons Natal BA and MA Oxon,a lone voice of sanity on badgers and bovine TB for many years, for providing much of the above information. See www.badgersandtb.co.uk

Yours faithfully, Tony Meeuwissen

While I fully understand this view and indeed have called for more investigations it is hard to counter a £34m study results - yes I would agree the results do appear flawed if we accept that badegrs don't have such a role to play - but all main opposition groups including the Badger Trust are quoting this study as a key part of the evidence against a cull. As the only party that has always been against a cull it would have been useful to at least challenge the other parties views?

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