Letter to the Western Mail – ‘Vaccination is the way with Badgers’

Letter to the Editor of Western Mail.

Sir – In his letter (5/5/11) Dr John Gallagher writes that he was the Director for Devon and Cornwall of the Veterinary Investigation Service of Maff (now Defra).

In the Richards Report of 1972 which was an inquiry into Bovine TB in Western Cornwall delivered to the Chief Veterinary Officer, it states quite clearly that ‘Tuberculosis in cattle is usually contracted from other infected cattle and the environment which they have contaminated’. (2.6) It goes on to state that: ‘slurry tanks were moved from farm to farm without being washed or cleansed’ and ‘in our views these practices may be responsible for perpetuation and spreading disease.’ (4.7). The report also states that: ‘ we have listed in Appendix M particulars of 20 cattle which on evidence of herd history and lesions found on slaughter, were considered to have been infected for some considerable time but showed a low sensitivity to tuberculin. Some of these animals had at some time during their testing history shown some response but insufficient to classify them as reactors. Their subsequent history suggests however that they were infected at that time with bovine tuberculosis: indeed the outbreak of the disease involving 18 herds in the parish of Madron may well have been caused by 3 such animals’. I am surprised that Dr Gallagher took no notice of this report delivered to his own Chief Veterinary Officer.

He says that badgers have ‘increased enormously’ since 1973 and yet ‘the disease takes an unfettered progress in badgers’. He can’t have it both ways; when badgers contract bTB they become ill and die, they do not ‘increase enormously’.

It’s interesting that in Devon the National Trust plan to carry out badger vaccination; they say “This is a pilot project—it’s not research, not a trial –we know the vaccine works, and we’re going for it”.

We are indeed fortunate in Wales in having a Minister who introduced strict bio security measures, strict cattle movement controls and testing for bTB, which has dramatically reduced the levels of bTB in cattle in Wales by 43%, with no badgers being killed. Cattle TB is 90-99% a respiratory lung infection, caught from prolonged contact over wintering in barns and yards breathing in the bugs, just like colds and flu. It’s very hard to see how it might be from badgers. The favoured idea that badger urine on pasture might be the route is just daft since 99% disappears into the soil, the drying residue is disinfected by UV in sunlight within days, so a cow couldn’t possibly drink the minimum 3cc dose c1 million bacilli to catch TB from badgers. 

Dr Cheesman, who worked for Defra for 30 years says that “Cattle are the problem, not badgers”, followed by Dr McDonald, a researcher for the Food and Environmental Research Agency who stated “Culling will make bTB worse and farmers need to start backing the vaccination programme”.

After the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) in 2007, which was carried out by the Independent Scientific Group and cost approximately £40m, took 10 years and culled 1100 badgers, they published the ‘Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence’ which stated: “Our overall conclusion is that after careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain”.

Printing of Dr Gallagher’s letter on the day of the polls suggests that there may have been another agenda aimed at voters who favour the recent Order made by the last government. Well all of the scientific evidence supports vaccination and not the legalising of the slaughter of badgers, who have been here for 400,000 years.

David Petersen.
St Clears, Carmarthenshire

An edited version of this letter was published in the Western Mail on Wednesday 11th May

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