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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Badger culling and bovine TB

I, like many others, am disappointed to hear that thousands of badgers are going to be culled in ongoing efforts to combat the increase in bovine TB. I do however recognise that bTB is an extremely serious problem and having spent some time reading available literature on the subject, I can go some way to understanding why it is felt that badger culling is necessary in some areas.

I am curious to know if there is an explanation for the higher bTB incidence in the Midlands, south west and Wales. The figures suggest that there are environmental factors involved for which I have not seen data. If so, badgers would seem to be only a part of the issue and as much a victim as cattle. To my mind this would make badger culls only a stop gap solution and not the final answer to the problem.

Data suggests that the south west and Wales are acting as a disease reservoir for the rest of the country.

If anyone can add anything to this question I would be interested to hear.

I've just asked the NFU about the geographical distribution of the disease and it will be interesting to see what they have to say.


  1. Hi Ron,
    I too am very interested to hear the answer to your question, but I suspect you won't get one, as I'm not sure anybody knows!!
    Just saw the following piece, and thought you might be interested, as it sums up quiet neatly the current government position:

    Badgered to death - but not by statistics.

    Author: Julian Champkin

    The UK's Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline
    Spelman, has announced that she is 'strongly minded' to allow a cull of
    badgers in Britain. This is in order to reduce the spread of TB in cattle.

    She is quoted as saying that her decision is 'based on scientific research.'
    With any due respect to the Minister, her statement is factually
    incorrect. The scientific research shows very clearly that a cull of
    badgers will be ineffective against bovine TB.

    How do I know this? Because the best and most famous statistician in the
    UK, Sir David Cox, was charged by the government some years ago with the
    statistical design and analysis of a very large scientific survey to
    establish whether culling badgers will actually reduce TB in cattle. The
    study was conducted by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB;
    its science was headed by Lord Krebs; it took nine years of exhaustive
    research, field trials comparing experimentally culled and unculled
    areas, with investigation and analysis of the results; and it found very
    clearly that culling badgers would be ineffective.
    See the article that Sir David and his colleague on the Independent
    Scientific group Cristl Donnelly wrote for Significance about it here.

    Their report was delivered in June 2007. Its conclusion was this: "Given
    its high costs and low benefits, ... badger culling is unlikely to
    contribute usefully to the control of cattle TB in Britain." Indeed in
    some circumstances a cull might even be counterproductive, increasing
    the amount of cattle TB as infected badgers from neighbouring areas move
    in to replace the culled ones.

    That settled the science of the matter -- or so one would have thought.
    Bizarrely, though, a mere two months later, the then Chief Scientific
    Adviser to the Government, Sir David King, came to an exactly opposite
    conclusion. His research had lasted not nine years but two days. A
    Parliamentary Select Committee was, understandably, rather amazed and
    summoned Sir David King to explain. 'To be able to turn around a
    significant conclusion of the report in what would appear to be a
    cavalier and unsustainable fashion is something that you really ought to
    respond to' was one MP's comment to him. Sir David King was unable to
    give the grounds on which he had so summarily rejected the results of
    nine years of quality scientific and statistical work.

    Culling badgers - ie killing them in large numbers - is an emotive issue
    and a political minefield for governments in Britain. Famers see a
    rising incidence of TB in their herds and say that it is transmitted by
    badgers. Some 25,000 cattle from TB-infected herds had to be slaughtered
    last year. Get rid of the badgers and you'll get rid of the TB, say the
    Conservation groups and animal lovers say that is rubbish. 80% of cattle
    TB is by cow-to-cow transmission, and badgers play a minority role at
    most. Those groups will be furious if the government allows a major
    badger cull; farmers groups will be furious if it does not. Successive
    governments have apparently done their best to avoid having to make a
    decision. But it seems that the crunch time has now come.


  2. Continued....

    Badgers have been a protected species in England since 1973. It should
    be said that of course they are not remotely threatened with extinction,
    cull or no cull. It is estimated that the cull will kill about 30,000 of
    them out of a UK population of about 190,000; as it is, around 40,000
    badgers are killed each year by motorcars on the roads.
    Animal-lovers feel emotional about their badgers. Farmers feel emotional
    about their cows (and their profits too, of course; the cost to the
    country of those 25,000 slaughtered cows has been given as about £90
    million. That is not a small sum. Even non-farmers should sympathise.)

    But whichever way the decision goes, animals will die. The question is
    whether they will die to some purpose. Lord Krebs, in charge of the ISG
    report, was quoted as saying that the data shows culling to be
    ineffective. Even proponents of the cull expect it to contribute no more
    than a 16% reduction in bovine TB.

    The Minister's decision is a political one, and politicians are entitled
    to make political decisions. Indeed it is their job. Nevertheless it is
    sad that the decision the Minster is 'minded to' make is the one that
    flies in the face of science and statistics. It is sadder still that she
    makes the claim that her decision is 'based on scientific research.'
    That claim at least is demonstrably false.
    As will emerge, we suppose, a few years from now, when badgers have been
    culled and TB in cattle herds is still at much the same level as it is now.

    The Minister, of course, by then will have moved on.

  3. Louisiana .
    They gave it all up, you know.
    And it wasn't just because of Feds and " PITY LTD".
    Oh no.
    They had a ANGELINA with a SLYCA and it was more than just pouring rain.
    It was JENNY-_ O.


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