Badger cull would be reckless gamble– Badger Trust press release

A REPORT published on Monday by a panel of experts confirms that a badger cull would be a massively irresponsible gamble that could backfire on farmers and prove hugely unpopular with the public, says the Badger Trust.

On the eve of the Cabinet’s expected decision on whether or not to go ahead with a cull that could see many thousands of healthy badgers being slaughtered the Trust says:

“The forecast possible reductions in bTB are small and spread over a huge time frame – nine years until 2020. They are also highly speculative, relying on a large-scale, sustained, simultaneous cull over a large area. They are also, damningly, based not on science but on guesswork.

“The impact and efficacy of shooting free-running badgers – many of which will inevitably be wounded – is based not on hard proof but on supposition because shooting has never been tried before. Perturbation is known to have a major negative effect on culling effectiveness but the Government, in its haste to unload costs on to farmers, is ignoring that key fact. It was clear from the minutes of the DEFRA science meeting released on 4 July that one cannot reliably extrapolate from the RBCT results if one takes a significantly different approach to their methodology, as appears to be planned by DEFRA. Even following the RBCT methodology closely, the benefits are miniscule and the process is costly. The group concluded that vaccination was effective and had none of the negatives of culling.”

David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “A decision to cull badgers could easily backfire, and will be widely condemned as inhumane. Jim Paice talks about a well managed science-led cull. The reality is that thousands of bTB-free badgers could die in a hail of bullets for at best comparatively small improvements in bTB spread over a nine year period lasting until 2020. Mishandled the cull could make bTB worse.

“Ministers need to be reminded that a decision to cull would be subjecting a protected native species to a sustained shoot-to-kill slaughter likely to leave many wounded. It would be a massive unscientific gamble, hugely unpopular, that would demonstrate once and for all that the Government’s consultation pledges–to create “a carefully managed science led cull”– are meaningless spin from a minister who has been in farming for 40 years and the secretary of state who has worked for the NFU. Cattle testing must be improved, the majority of cattle are tested only once every 4 years and with a test which is at best only 80% accurate.

This means that despite a 15% reduction over the last two years there were still an estimated several thousand cattle undetected and left to infect others. Is this why the Government won’t publish the results of the consultation? Furthermore, despite assertions by the NFU for decades that badgers are responsible for spreading bTB, not all farmers share this belief although loyalty to their colleagues and fear of intimidation prevents them from speaking out. Their loyalty is misplaced when, as has been recently publicised, some farmers are switching ear tags, ignoring hygiene laws at markets and allowing cattle under restriction to be taken to shows, all practices which put their colleagues’ livelihoods at risk.

The Trust goes on to warn:·

  • The Cabinet should be very wary about an estimated 12-16 percent net reduction [1] in bovine TB outbreaks after nine years (according to the panel of experts). It should first digest the following, from the same source: ” . . . if culling is not conducted in a coordinated, sustained and simultaneous manner according to the minimum scientific criteria, then this could result in a smaller benefit or even a detrimental effect on confirmed cattle bTB incidence”.
  • In the light of that, it should closely examine the reliability of advice about shooting free running badgers at night and the dangers to the public, pets and other wild animals associated with this untested, untried strategy with no guarantees of success. The Cabinet should demand proof based on experience that a cull would achieve a required minimum 70 percent kill synchronised in each area for 4 years. This means it would still be in operation when the next election is due.
  • Ministers have listened too much to industries that resisted measures to control the disease over decades. The Government is in danger of earning the contempt of the scientific community and those who have taken time to understand its work.
  • Scotland achieved TB-free status by sustained and thorough pre-and post-movement testing but without killing badgers.
  • The UK as a whole did the same thing after World War II and the farming industry spread the disease far and wide, not the badgers.

[1] Defra: Bovine TB – Key conclusions from the meeting of scientific experts, 4th April 2011.

Jack Reedy
01564 783129  / 0775 173 1107

Badger Trust is the only charity dedicated to the conservation of badgers throughout England, Wales and all Ireland.
PO Box 708, EAST GRINSTEAD, RH19 2WNTel: 08458 287878  Fax: 02380 233896
 Registered Charity no.1111440  Company registered in the UK No.5460677

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