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Badgers cull a ‘costly distraction’

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More than 30 eminent animal disease experts describe the badgers cull due to start shortly as a ‘costly distraction’ in a letter in today’s Observer.  They state it will risk making the problem of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle worse and that it will cost far more than it saves. This intervention, coupled with the fact that the government’s current Chief Scientist has refused to back the killings, must surely bring about a rethink.

In a separate development nine leading vets have written to Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) warning that the cull license allows the targeting of lactating females, with the danger that dependent cubs would be left in their dens to die of starvation.

Hunters will have to stalk the badgers at night as they are nocturnal animals, which raises the possibility that many of them will be shot but not killed outright, leading to hours or days of pain before dying. Independent scientists have pointed out that killing badgers disrupts their social groups, with badgers moving further afield to establish new groups, taking TB with them. This led to an increase in cases of bovine TB outside of the cull zone.

Meg said:

“I urge the government to think again about this cull. Lord John Krebs, one of the UK’s most eminent scientists states that the cull policy is ‘mindless’. He also states that the ‘scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.’

There is a very real problem with the spread of TB in cattle. But it will not be solved by killing badgers, but by vaccinating them and cattle against the disease. We also need to increase efforts to develop more efficient vaccines and medicines.

I invite those opposed to the badger cull to sign the e-petition.”

The e-petition currently has over 150,000 people signed up:



The imminent badgers cull is due to start in selected locations in Somerset and Gloucestershire. The reason given for this cull is that it is to protect cattle from tuberculosis. Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle. It is a serious problem for the cattle industry, causing financial and personal hardship for farmers. The disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer and other mammals.

Campaigners against culling say it will not have a significant impact in reducing the disease and are calling for the government to focus on vaccination instead. The vaccine for badgers - the BCG jab - has been used by a number of wildlife and conservation bodies in England, including the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust. Badger vaccination is also underway in Wales, and there are plans to introduce it in Northern Ireland.

Cattle can also be vaccinated with the BCG vaccine. However, vaccination of cattle against TB is currently prohibited by EU legislation, mainly because BCG vaccination of cattle can interfere with the tuberculin skin test, the main diagnostic test for TB. Vaccination is not effective in badgers or cattle that are infected with TB

For further information visit: http://www.badgertrust.org.uk/Content/Home.asp


The letter from the Observer 14th October 2012

Culling badgers could increase the problem of TB in cattle

Badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control


Bovine tuberculosis is a serious problem for UK farmers, deserving the highest standard of evidence-based management. The government’s TB-control policy for England includes licensing farmers to cull badgers. As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.

Even if such increases do not materialise, the government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the costs for either farmers or taxpayers. Unfortunately, the imminent pilot culls are too small and too short term to measure the impacts of licensed culling on cattle TB before a wider roll-out of the approach. The necessarily stringent licensing conditions mean that many TB-affected areas of England will remain ineligible for such culling. We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.

We recognise the importance of eradicating bovine TB and agree that this will require tackling the disease in badgers. Unfortunately, culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication. We therefore urge the government to reconsider its strategy.

Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS

University of Cambridge and president of the Zoological Society of London, and 30 others:

Professor Mike Begon, University of Liverpool ; Professor Tim Blackburn, Zoological Society of London ; Professor John Bourne CBE, former Chairman, Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB; Professor William Sutherland, University of Cambridge; Professor Terry Burke, University of Sheffield; Dr Chris Cheeseman, formerly Food & Environment Research Agency; Professor Sarah Cleaveland, University of Glasgow; Professor Tim Clutton Brock FRS, University of Cambridge ; Professor Andrew Dobson, Princeton University; Dr Matthew Fisher, Imperial College London; Dr Trent Garner, Zoological Society of London; Professor Stephen Harris, University of Bristol; Professor Daniel Haydon, University of Glasgow; Professor Peter Hudson FRS, Pennsylvania State University; Professor Kate Jones, University College London; Professor Matt Keeling, University of Warwick; Professor Richard Kock, Royal Veterinary College; Professor Lord Krebs Kt FRS, University of Oxford; Dr Karen Laurenson, Frankfurt Zoological Society; Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, former chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council; Professor Simon Levin, Princeton University; Professor Georgina Mace FRS, University College London; Professor Jonna Mazet, University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Professor Lord May OM AC Kt FRS, University of Oxford; Professor Graham Medley, University of Warwick; Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland, Imperial College London; Professor Denis Mollison, former Independent Scientific Auditor to the Randomised Badger Culling Trial; Professor Pej Rohani, University of Michigan; Dr Tony Sainsbury, Zoological Society of London; Professor Claudio Sillero, University of Oxford; Professor Rosie Woodroffe, Zoological Society of London.


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