7 February 2014
A flurry of bovine TB statistics will undermine any wild assertions by delegates and Ministers at this week’s National Farmers’ Union conference that badger culling is essential. The Prime Minister and Mr Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must now justify their repeated assertions that incidence of the disease was continuing to increase.
The latest facts about bovine TB are yet another nail in the coffin of the pro-cullers, says Badger Trust. The idea of further culls should be buried once and for all; in fact it is decreasing all round: notably in Northern Ireland where badgers are not culled. The Republic of Ireland continues to kill badgers, but does no better than the north.
Furthermore, the numbers of herd incidents and individual cattle slaughtered on mainland Britain are showing clear signs of shrinking further, continuing the trend since 2008. New whole-year figures are due out soon.
Those bent on killing badgers persist in trying to save face with claims that the disease cannot be controlled without killing wildlife. They wilfully ignore the UK’s success in having brought the disease down by more than 90 percent to about 1,000 cattle a year by 1970 – without badger culling. It remained at that level for 20 years until a three-fold increase followed relaxation of annual testing and the cattle industry’s stubborn refusal to test animals before selling them on.
The present situation is this:
The number of cattle slaughtered has been halved over the last decade through cattle measures alone. The important difference between Northern Ireland  and the Republic is that the Province suffered from foot and mouth disease, as did the UK, leading to a surge in cattle slaughtered to an average of 1,400 during 2003. Last year Northern Ireland’s toll had slumped to 750.
Republic of Ireland
The number of cattle slaughtered has almost halved over the past five years to a new record low of 15,612 last year. Unlike Northern Ireland the Republic slaughtered 6,000 badgers a year, clearly for no meaningful benefit. The Department of Agriculture admitted it was “difficult” to quantify the precise impact of badger culling on the reduction in the incidence of TB. Nevertheless it still asserts that much of the improvement was due to badger removal.
The Principality has seen a massive drop of 33 per cent in the number of cattle slaughtered during the year up to the end of November 2013 : 6,275 cattle compared with 9,364 in the same period the year before. This more than recovered the 18 per cent increase the previous year which had led to renewed calls for badger culling. The Welsh Government’s policy is to vaccinate badgers and insist on stringent cattle controls.
There was also a substantial fall of 23% in herd infections  for the 12 months up to the end of November 2013 (880 new herd incidents compared to 1,145 in the previous 12 months) – a fall of 23 per cent. This more than offsets the increase of 15 per cent from 2011 to 2012.
The Welsh Government now proposes to take an additional one per cent from a farmer’s direct payments if tests are between one day and three months late; this would be on top of the three per cent fines for tests that go beyond three months and five per cent for tests 12 months overdue.
The Coalition Government’s badger cull proposals have suffered another setback after the release of figures further damaging its case. Muddle over statistics meant it wrongly claimed an increase of 18 per cent in the number of cattle herds infected by bTB across Britain. Now it admits that the number actually fell by 3.4 per cent in the year to September 2013. The Coalition has also disclosed that the rate of new infections had been slightly exaggerated in both 2012 and 2013 – further undermining the case for the cull of badgers.
Yet more new figures ruin Mr Cameron’s and Mr Paterson’s case for the cull. They show a 13 per cent reduction in the number of cattle – as opposed to herds – slaughtered in England between January and November in 2013, compared to the same period the year earlier.
Senseless killing must stop now, says the Badger Trust.