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Badger cull trial is doomed to fail. We need simpler alternative

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 15, 2013

The six-monthly check for bovine TB is a twice-yearly nightmare for Westcountry dairy farmers.  Derek Mead says it is time for positive action

The six-monthly check for bovine TB is a twice-yearly nightmare for Westcountry dairy farmers. Derek Mead says it is time for positive action

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Bovine TB is no longer the real problem for farmers – says Derek Mead, chairman of the Badger Welfare Association – it’s the scientific community.

It's often been said that if you pose a question to a group of 100 scientists 20 per cent will give you one answer, 20 per cent an answer which contradicts it and the remaining 60 per cent will tell you they need more funding before they can give you an answer at all.

This sadly, encapsulates all that has been happening over the last 20 years in the issue of badgers and bovine TB.

Farmers have endured two decades of acrimonious debate, of claim and counter-claim. Theories as to how the epidemic may be brought under control have been advanced and immediately shot down.

All the while the government has continued to shovel out money for research: an estimated £300 million to date.

And what progress can we see for our – the taxpayers' – money? An epidemic which continues to steadily engulf the country, forcing the unnecessary destruction of thousands of head of pedigree cattle, infecting other wildlife, and pushing hard-working farmers to the brink of suicide (and in some instances beyond) all because one single-issue group wants to protect the animal that is spreading the disease.

For a time of course, even the badger's role as a vector for TB was being challenged. There was no 'science' to support the belief, the pro-badger lobby claimed. Happily we have got over that hurdle. It is now an accepted fact that badgers do spread TB.

The latest government-backed study even identifies those patterns of badger behaviour which are most likely to take the infection into new territory. But what does the report conclude? That more research should be undertaken.

The argument has now moved on from the disease itself to the methodology of killing the badgers, but the TB issue is turning into a multi-million pound job creation scheme for scientists who I believe have no real interest in wiping out TB at all while the grant cheques continue to roll in.

Scientists have failed, failed and failed again. And they are about to chalk up another failure with the proposed trial badger culls.

The trials are going to lead to healthy badgers being shot and diseased ones driven out into currently TB-free areas, handing a propaganda victory on a plate to the pro-badger groups

My organisation is proposing a simple and, we believe, workable alternative. We have the expertise to identify those setts which are most likely to be hosting infected badgers. We want to create an official demonstration area where we can target those setts and eradicate the badgers painlessly as they sleep during the daytime with the use of carbon monoxide gas. No shooting. No disturbance. Few, if any, healthy badgers needlessly killed.

We know carbon monoxide gas kills particularly because it is the method which tragically, so many farmers have resorted to when they could no longer cope. We do not need five or six years of scientific trials to assess its effectiveness – but perhaps that is the very reason why neither the scientific community nor the government which employs such a large segment of it have been willing to sanction any operation of the kind we are proposing.

Instead the scientists – or at least 20 per cent of them – are sticking out for the cull, which has already cost well over £1 million: £750,000 for identifying the setts, £300,000 to Natural England for its work in designing it and £95,000 to five scientists for monitoring it.

The TB epidemic is about to evolve into a full-blown crisis. The disastrous weather of the last few months has created ideal, damp conditions below ground for TB to thrive and spread. At the same time stocks of many of the badgers' food sources, such as maize, have become depleted because of harvest failures. Badgers are therefore going to emerge from their sodden setts this spring, desperate for food and will have to range further and wider in search of it.

It is almost inevitable that we shall see a significant rise in the number of farms with TB, from the current 20 per cent level in the South West.

More farmers will be faced with clearing up the carcasses of the animals the pro-badger lobby holds in such high regard: carcasses which are so dangerous that the government advice is to handle them only when wearing rubber gloves, overalls and a face mask, which should be placed in double-sealed plastic bags and disposed of as highly infectious material.

They will then have to go back to coping with yet more stringent controls and regulations issued by the government to segregate cattle, all because the pro-badger movement continues to argue that cattle-to-cattle transmission is the real cause of TB's spread.

Yet despite repeated requests for the 'science' which supports this assertion none has ever been produced.

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2 comments

  • Jennypenny  |  September 13 2013, 1:49PM

    Why not test the gas for 'humanness on vermin like Mead & the rest of these despicable neanderthals?

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  • stormkettle  |  September 12 2013, 5:23PM

    Keep your stinking poisonous exhaust fumes away from the lovely badgers' setts

    |   5
  • badgerhugger  |  January 22 2013, 7:08PM

    Biggest lie of all is Derek Mead calling his group the badger Welfare Association. He refers to farmers resorting to suicide using carbon monoxide. Who are they? farmers receive compensation and still have their farms. Dockers, steelworkers, fishermen and miners have all lost their industries without using emotional blackmail. Dairy farmers are giving up by the score in northern counties where they have never heard of TB. Is that a result of badgers? Latest studies do indeed explain how TB spreads. eg, swapping identification tags, illegal movements, poor record keeping, attending shows, spreading infected milk and slurry on the land, poor husbandry, poor attention to biosecurity and overcrowding in unhygenic sheds. Derek Mead says he can identify those setts which are most likely to be hosting infected badgers. No he can't unless he carries out a thorough autopsy.

    |   7
  • Cathysorbo444  |  January 22 2013, 3:35PM

    How dare you publish such a self centred unrighteous article with David Mead's unadulterated lies and deception. Do not believe one word that comes from this man's mouth - all he wants to do is kill badgers, whether healthy, sick or nursing their young. And his methods brings to mind a similar minded group in Germany back in World War 11 but to a different type of species. How can a badger be responsible for a cattle disease of the lungs - no wonder scientists are so split as to the cause of this disease. This disease is caught by cattle sharing contaminated equipment, sheds and watering troughs and not forgetting, movement around the country - better and cleaner farming practices are the only answer - not killing badgers who are part of the indigenous species of this country.

    |   3
  • Bex173  |  January 22 2013, 2:58PM

    I often wonder at the term 'TB epidemic', when it appears that far more cattle are destroyed for illnesses like mastitis, etc. and yet not nearly as much publicity for 'farmer loss' over those issues. Every scientific study indicates that if badgers are part of the TB problem, it is only about 15% of the problem. Why is no one questioning what the other 85% of this disease transmission is? Certainly, economically, it would be far more feasible to deal with 85% of the problem rather than 15%. The natural conclusion to this problem is nothing other than cattle vaccination, which frankly, will eventually be legislated so that this issue of depleting wildlife can finally be put to bed. In 2011, one county in Ireland had a massive cull, only to find that 6 months later, TB was 'epidemic' in the cull area: only a very small handful of farmers tested negative for TB in the previously culled area. Strangely, each of these farmers took responsibility for their own biosecurity - disinfecting slurry (far more potent in the TB crisis than any badger interaction), only putting slurry out on fields used for fodder, rather than grazing, raising troughs 3 feet so badgers can not drink from them, double fencing their fields (and no longer allowing their herds to graze 'on the long finger'), being judicious about cattle movement and tagging, etc. It is time that the farming unions understand that the answer to this problem is within the behavior and responsibility of farmers themselves and stop shunting the responsibility for this illness onto wildlife.

    |   3
  • bullocks400  |  January 17 2013, 7:25PM

    Don't lose heart Mr Mead. All the badgerists seem to be throwing their toys out of the pram as usual, so you must be on the right track. The wheel will turn and one day common sense will become part of decision making again. A great shame that currently the lunatics are in charge of the asylum and farmers seem unwilling, or too scared, to rise up and stand together against those determined to destroy the industry.

    |   -11
  • mmjames  |  January 17 2013, 10:25AM

    Can't see mention of Bryan Hill - I hope Derek Mead is talking about PCR. More cr@p info from the badger trust Granny - trust??? haha Lies and more of them: http://tinyurl.com/a6h9f4m

    |   -2
  • grannyonline1  |  January 17 2013, 9:27AM

    atrixman if you have been following this debate over the months you will have seen plenty of "cost effective and constructive methods" to help deal with BTB in both badgers and cattle. Its just that they are being ignored!!

    |   2
  • AtrixMan  |  January 17 2013, 9:12AM

    It's a pity so many of the comments here are in the order of, 'what excuse can I find to do nothing about the TB vector in badgers' rather than what the BWA is trying to do, come up with cost effective and constructive methods of dealing with TB in both cattle and badgers.

    |   -1
  • fischadler  |  January 15 2013, 3:27PM

    I cannot understand why these articles which contain complete drivel keep appearing. It is time that farmers realised that killing badgers is not big and it is not clever. Petition against the cull has now reached one hundred and sixty seven thousand. Opinion polls rate opposition to the cull around 90%. If you go against this massive opposition you will lose, so use some commom sense now, forget killing badgers and you may regain some respect.

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