Badgers are a drop in an ocean of Bovine TB muddle


Badger Trust logoBADGER TRUST
4 July 2013

Two significant news releases issued July 4th by the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs and the National Farmers Union contain a series of equivocations and unsupportable assertions. They also complain of the ruinous effect of slaughtering TB cattle without acknowledging that ten times as many animals are killed because of other diseases.

The Defra statement: said:
“. . . bovine TB (bTB) was once a disease isolated to small pockets of the country”.

Wrong. The disease was once extremely widespread across the United Kingdom just before and after World War II. A radical programme to eradicate bTB infected cattle brought the number of reactors down from an estimated 47,000 before the war to about 1,000 by 1970 without killing badgers. It remained about this level for 20 years and throughout these decades any “wildlife reservoir” had no effect. Then, from 1990 onwards progressive relaxations of cattle restrictions and lack of pre-movement testing allowed the disease to spread again. Furthermore, testing of cattle after movement should have been brought in many years ago.

“The Government is today publishing a consultation on a draft strategy for achieving official freedom from bTB in England”.

The Coalition and the cattle industry have been finally dragged to this point by the EU thirty years after the industry should have been looking after its own interests. Instead, it ignored the catastrophic rise from the early ‘90s to three years ago and distracted itself with myths about the wildlife reservoir in badgers.

“These demonstrate the importance of applying stringent cattle control measures in combination with tackling any SIGNIFICANT reservoir of infection in wildlife” (Badger Trust)

This windy assertion does not define what is significant in relation to badgers considering the widely varying impact of the disease in various localities and at different times. New Zealand’s achievement of reducing bTB by 94%, which included killing possums, is never set against that of the United Kingdom in bringing down the total by 96% from 25,000 reactors in the early fifties to about 1,000 by the early 1970s.

Defra’s statement also says, ominously for the industry, that “both government and the cattle industry would contribute to the cost”.

We say that this once again heralds a Coalition intention to offload the operational cost onto the farmers.

“Government the strategy built upon ….. controls to address the reservoir of infection in badgers”.

We say that the coalition needs to be careful, first to establish that there is indeed a reservoir of infection and secondly to justify its stubborn refusal to acknowledge the serious risk that culling could make matters worse.

“The Government is proposing to work in partnership with the industry to develop risk-based packages”

The Badger Trust understands that “risk-based packages” is sinister, meaning the relaxation of controls where risks are presumed to be low, but with no idea of present or impending conditions.

The Defra statement promises continued investment in the development of an oral badger vaccine and new diagnostic tests for cattle and badgers which could pave the way for “alternative approaches”.

We say: All this has been made massively more difficult, however welcome, because of the shameful lack of will by the cattle industry while smitten by the supposed cheap short cut of killing badgers.

The NFU statement welcomes farmers having a much greater input into TB control policy.

They will pay dearly and face a much greater cost because the NFU vows that farmers are prepared to contribute for “elements” of disease control. The farmers’ element will be the shouldering of massive operational costs whereas the coalition will pay only the far smaller costs of administration.

Contact: Jeff Hayden
Telephone: 08458 287878