Bow Group urges Government to scrap badger cull plans

Sustainability and Environment
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Graham Godwin-Pearson with a foreword by Dr Brian May CBE

The Bow Group has today unveiled a major paper urging the Government to reconsider plans to resume badger culling in England in autumn 2012, saying the culls, an attempt to control the spread of bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), are likely to be more costly and less practical to conduct than DEFRA believes. Counter-intuitively, culling has also been proven to make bTB worse and Defra’s focus should be on vaccination instead.

It follows an announcement this week that the Welsh Assembly Government is scrapping plans to cull in favour of vaccination.

There is no doubt that bTB needs to be tackled. In 2010-11, the disease cost the taxpayer £91m (approx. 3% of gross output of GB cattle enterprise); in 2010, 25,000 cattle were slaughtered as a result.

However, in the paper, with contributions from some of Britain’s leading TB scientists and a foreword by former Queen guitarist and vocal animal rights campaigner, Brian May, the paper finds the following:

- The proposed culls are likely to be more expensive than the Government would hope, when additional policing, the resulting spread in bTB and the delay to other, more effective methods of reducing the disease are taken into account.

- Culling is deeply unpopular

– the Bow Group’s own market research confirms that 81% of people are opposed to the plans.

- Recent, large badger culling trials have demonstrated projected efficiency in reducing bTB in cattle of just 12-16% (depending on the model) over 9 years, meaning at least 84% of the problem will remain.

- Badger culling has been demonstrated to lead to perturbation – a social fracturing among badgers that leads to an increase in bTB outside the affected area.- Just 15% of badgers carry bTB and the Bow Group believes that poor biosecurity plays a much greater role in bTB spread. Serious recent biosecurity lapses, whereby landowners have been re-tagging and transporting infected cattle, are of deep concern.

- Culling can have a serious impact on local ecosystems – wildlife groups are concerned about local extinction and a knock-on effect on other species.- Following an assessment of projected costs, the paper identifies some key pieces of research into wild badger vaccination, which it believes is a more effective, less risky long-term solution for reducing the spread of bTB and leaves a smaller ecological footprint (fully developed cattle vaccination being some years off).

- Trials have shown vaccination to reduce the incidence of positive serological TB test results by almost 74%.

- A vaccination programme combined with improvements in biosecurity would be the most efficient way to minimise bTB spread and cost to the taxpayer.

Lord Krebs, the architect of the original Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) commissioned by the last Government, told the Bow Group: “Defra has said it wishes its policy for controlling TB in cattle to be science-led. There is a substantial body of scientific evidence that indicates that culling badgers will not be an effective or cost-effective policy.

“The best informed independent scientific experts agree that culling on a large, long-term, scale will yield modest benefits and that it is likely to make things worse before they get better. It will also make things worse for farmers bordering on the cull areas."

In the RBCT report following the last cull, Page 5: First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.

Richard Mabey, Research Secretary of the Bow Group, said: “The Government’s policy is bad for farmers, bad for wildlife and bad for the taxpayer. Market research, commissioned by the Bow Group, shows that the issue will be costly for the Conservatives in political terms, not least in the marginal seats in which the culling trials are to be held.“Vaccination is best for badgers and best for the taxpayer: a shift in focus from culling to vaccination is now essential.”