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Wildlife will be riddled with disease without badger cull

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 04, 2012

The priority is to protect uninfected cattle herds and badger populations before bovine TB infects the whole country, according to Rebecca  Jordan

The priority is to protect uninfected cattle herds and badger populations before bovine TB infects the whole country, according to Rebecca Jordan

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As the badger cull rolls closer, emotions are smothering the reality of the facts of life in our countryside, writes Rebecca Jordan.

This is a free society where debate has formed our laws and intellect.

As was the case when fox hunting was deemed illegal, websites and reams of newspaper print spew inaccurate, vitriolic opinions and heart-wrenching anecdotes which have been angrily bashed out on computer keyboards in our cities and towns by kinsmen many generations detached from their countryside roots.

The British people have a morbid tendency to anthropomorphism which is based on a natural affinity to animals. As an historically sustainable island nation, nearly every family today will be able to trace its story back to farming. Yet the fact remains, 90% of our population now lives in either cities or towns and has no direct contact with other species. But they have the majority voice.

We are surrounded by technology and science that carries no truck with sentiment. And behind the doors of Parliament money holds sway. So, in this case, science, reasoning and haemorrhaging costs helped politicians make their decision to take this last opportunity to stop the spread of this vile disease and clean up our countryside.

And this is the last chance. Today's politicians have stuck to their guns and made it clear they want a result. Let's face it; no Government can justify a predicted £1 billion bill over the next ten years to shore up a situation which can be rectified. Especially when farmers in the cull areas agree to share the cost.

The priority is to protect uninfected cattle herds and badger populations. Bovine TB is well on its way to infecting the whole country. It is spreading into uninfected regions at a rate of up to ten miles a year. Recently it has been detected in Scotland – which prides itself on its TB-free status.

No country has successfully tackled the spread of bovine TB without addressing its presence in the wildlife population. And the reason the badger population has become so infected is due to spiralling population numbers which have soared since the Badger Protection Act was passed 20 years ago.

With a quarter of the UK's badgers residing in the South West, work is focused here, where the incidence of bTB in cattle is also at its peak. And so, the two cull pilot areas have been designed so features such as coast land, rivers and motorways create a wall through which the disease cannot pass. This is vital to the trial's success.

Remember this cull is not the be-all and end-all of eradicating bovine TB. It is part of a three-pronged attack. Farmers and scientists also have to pull their weight. Already all cattle are tested for bovine TB infection before moving to another holding or market. There is a 60-day window in which to carry out that movement. It is likely movement could be reduced to 30 days with no compensation available to cover the loss of infected stock that, by law, must be slaughtered.

Imagine if you had to take your horse or dog to the vet every month for an injection and then notify the Government if you wanted to take it off your property.

Scientists are under serious pressure to advance the work they are doing on vaccines. These are ineffective on bovine TB-infected badgers and hence will do nothing to stop the spread of disease. Under EU law it is illegal to sell meat and milk produced from vaccinated cattle. Brussels wants the disease eradicated.

Recently, much Press coverage has been given to the views of the Badger Welfare Association, which is keen to identify diseased badger setts and gas them with carbon monoxide. What has not been recorded is the fact setts are too large for this technique to be effective and there is no licence for the gas.

However, scientists are encouraged to investigate fresh ideas such as foam gas and the use of the polymerase chain reaction test to identify setts containing infected badgers. The current test is not yet at a stage where it could be considered for wider field use.

So that is why the cull plays such a crucial part in the plan to eradicate this disease. Once bovine TB is eliminated in heavily-infected areas – in both cattle and badgers – it will be possible to use other techniques to control and prevent its stranglehold on our countryside.

We all take pleasure in a dynamic wildlife population. We all need to eat healthily. In my opinion the best way to harvest protein is to turn grass into meat. Without this cull we shall soon have a wildlife population riddled with disease and an empty landscape.

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  • Jake_Blake  |  October 05 2012, 1:45AM

    "Badger culling is emotive, but debate over scientific evidence is ignoring established fact Leading independent scientists reviewed the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) and agreed that culling badgers under specific conditions can lead to a reduction of TB in cattle. The RBCT and subsequent studies have demonstrated that even if badgers range more widely during culling, potentially spreading the disease (the "perturbation effect"), the negative effects disappear quickly, while the benefits remain for at least six years after culling is stopped. The pilot areas have been designed to ensure the benefits of culling outweigh any negative effects due to perturbation, including boundaries such as rivers and motorways, to stop badgers spreading TB. The injectable vaccine is ineffective if badgers already have the disease; vaccination is required every year to ensure newborns are protected; and is extremely expensive because badgers must be trapped to be vaccinated. Defra is investing £15.5m in vaccines over the next four years. An oral badger vaccine (which could be cheaper and easier to administer) remains some years away, while there remain significant licensing and regulatory barriers before cattle vaccines can be used. Culling alone won't solve the problem but alongside measures such as testing and removing infected cattle and minimising contact with badgers it will make a meaningful contribution. " Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser and Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London SW1 Or how about the acceptance of results from 9 professors; archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/bovinetb-scientificexperts-110404.pdf But, hey lets be sure on this one; here are the continuing post-cull benefits from the RBCT; ***Time period (post-trial) Estimate (95% confidence interval) p-value ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Months 1-6 -49.4% (-69.4%, -16.3%) 0.008 Months 7-12 -38.4% (-62.0%, -0.1%) 0.049 Months 13-18 -48.0% (-66.8%, -18.8%) 0.004 Months 19-24 -24.7% (-50.0%, 13.4%) 0.17 Months 25-30 -28.4% (-54.6%, 12.9%) 0.15 Months 31-36 -8.0% (-41.2%, 44.1%) 0.72 Months 37-42 -28.9% (-53.5%, 8.7%) 0.12 Months 43-48 -27.8% (-55.0%, 16.0%) 0.18 Months 49-54 -16.6% (-47.3%, 31.8%) 0.44 Months 55-60* -10.8% (-44.4%, 43.2%) 0.64 [* This time period had 4.6 triplet-years of data as of 28 August 2011; other time periods had the full 5.0 triplet-years.] *** http://tinyurl.com/9lv54zd The simple fact is the case for a cull stands up, and those running away from this fact are misleading themselves and should not expect others to follow.

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  • conundrum  |  October 04 2012, 7:05PM

    Oh dear....this must be one of the most ridiculous and condescending articles about the cull to date. Basically it seems to be implying that the 90% of people who don't live in the countryside aren't well-informed or intelligent enough to understand the problem. That presumably also includes the majority of scientists and wildlife experts whose opinion the author disagrees with. 'Emotions are smothering the reality of the facts of life in our countryside' .....says writer whose headline reads: 'WILDLIFE WILL BE RIDDLED WITH DISEASE WITHOUT BADGER CULL'.... err....no emotion smothering reality there I suppose, no sense of irony, or awareness of the very obvious contradiction either. Ok, let's face it, the Government contains a few people who get off on dressing up in 19th century costume, enjoy the sight of furry things being torn apart by dogs, or blasted with shotguns, and although they have a suspicion that they're not very popular, they think that a lot of people who live and work in the countryside share their love of killing and will be more likely to vote for them next time if they allow some more furry things to get shot. Now from my experience ( and yes I do live and work in the countryside) neither of these last two propositions may be as correct as they think, but hey, it's worth a try anyway isn't it? And when there are people who are irrational enough to claim that all wildlife will be riddled with disease if a number of people with rifles aren't given the chance to stumble around in the dark taking pot shots at a limited number of only one particular species who are unlucky enough to be in the same place at the same time because they love peanuts....well, maybe they're on to something there. I suppose there's not much point in arguing with people whose thinking is that simplistic, but for anyone who's interested today's Guardian carried an article about an EC report on the subject, so here's an excerpt: But the EC report, based on inspections made in September 2011, found numerous "shortcomings", including missed targets on both the rapid removal of cattle with TB and the follow-up of missed tests, and "weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision". All these problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle. But of course what would they know? after all the more important question is: 'Do they actually live in the countryside. '

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  • Clued-Up  |  October 04 2012, 3:08PM

    What the scientists and DEFRA say:- - the mass killing of badgers won't reduce bTB and may increase the risk of bTB spread - many species (eg deer and cats) have much higher rates of individual animals carrying TB than badgers (so it is illogical to prioritise killing badgers; in theory the only "workeable" cull policy pro cullers could advocate would be the destruction of MOST animal species in likely to come into contact with cows) - in the same area, beef cattle are 5 times less likely to be affected by bTB than dairy cattle - indicating the bTB problem is caused by factors to do with cattle management (eg dairy cow genetics or feeding) and has very little to do with wildlife - only a few areas of the UK have serious bTB problems; as cattle and badgers co-exist all over the UK, that means the root causes of bTB are largely unrelated to badgers Jordan and co seem to have embarked on a crusade against badgers untroubled by the lack of supporting evidence for their position. Huge numbers of the 96% public opposing the cull HAVE done their homework and that's why they don't want the badgers to be slaughtered.

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