Queen guitarist Brian May on the attack over badger culls


3 October 2015

Animal rights campaigner Brian May has attacked former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson for claiming an “extraordinary reduction in bovine TB disease levels in the Somerset and Gloucestershire pilot areas prove badger culling works”.

Queen guitarist said: “Calling an ex-minister a liar is, of course, a very serious accusation, but, in the light of new expert analysis of the statistics on the Government’s badger cull, it is an inescapable conclusion. Much more serious is the fact that Owen Paterson is apparently deliberately misrepresenting the facts to the farming community, giving them false hope that killing badgers will solve their bTB problem. We, the public, of course, continue to foot the bill for this cruel, misguided, and ultimately doomed policy.”

The annual six-week culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire are now in the third year of a four-year pilot programme. This year culls are also began to take place in Dorset. They are all due to finish for the year in the middle of this month.

Defra will not comment on the effect on bovine TB levels until the four-year pilot finished. Scientists advising ministers have told them no useful conclusions can be drawn until ten. But Defra does publish regular statistics on TB breakdowns in cattle herds by county. The most recent figures, for June 2015, show 264 herds are down with TB in Somerset and 189 in Gloucestershire – a figure that has barely changed since culling began. However the figures are for the whole county while the culls are taking place in relatively narrow geographic areas.

Within the zones the NFU reports that the number of herds down with TB has been falling since culling began, leading a majority of livestock farmers to conclude that removing badgers cuts the risk of disease on the farm. A majority in other parts of the South West want the cull rolled out more widely.

Last February, at the NFU conference, NFU president Meurig Raymond told delegates anecdotal evidence showed the cull was working. In the Somerset cull zone he said the incidence of bovine TB in cattle had come down from 34 per cent to 11 per cent in two years. In Gloucestershire he said an NFU member and livestock farmer had reported his herd going clear for the first time in 11 years.

“He is very clear that the only thing that’s changed on his farm is that we are now doing something to control the disease in wildlife,” Mr Raymond said.

Mr [sic Dr] May said the claims of the NFU and Mr Paterson are in direct opposition to the science and research of the ten-year RBCT Trial “widely regarded around the world as the leading scientific study in relation to culling badgers.” T

he criteria of the current culls is based on the RBCT trials that require a minimum of 70 per cent of badger population are killed within six weeks to achieve any reduction in the disease. The RBCT trials demonstrated that a failure to achieve the targets would result in perturbation, an effect where the disease is spread by transient animals out of the cull zone.

Professor Lord Krebs, who oversaw the RBCT as Chief Scientific adviser to the government, said: “It’s simply not true that the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have resulted in a decline in TB. The NFU should be more honest with the public and its members.”

Anne Brummer, CEO of the Save Me Trust, said Mr Paterson is being deliberately misleading with his comments: “He and the NFU know that the same figures show an increase in bTB around the cull zones. They are making this problem worse for farmers, cattle and wildlife”.