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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Badger cull protesters come to the Assembly

I was in the Assembly for some meetings yesterday when it was drawn to my attention that a small group of protestors had travelled down to Cardiff Bay from Pembrokeshire to make their opposition known to the proposed badger cull in their community. As I had a gap in my diary I went down to join them.

The group of thirty or so protestors included farmers from North Pembrokeshire and were carrying placards and dressed as badgers. They staged a small theatrical event for the BBC camera in which somebody dressed as a badger was put in a cage and ceremonially shot.

Talking to the farmers it became evident that although many were unwilling to speak out for fear of offending their neighbours there is a great deal of unease at the cull. A lot of farmers are aware of sets on their land and are confident that the badgers there do not have TB. They worry that government agents coming onto their land to exterminate the badgers will compromise their bio-security, and that the cull will cause churn amongst the badger population driving some onto their land who are infected.

George Monbiot has an excellent article in today's Guardian in which he challenges many of the assumptions on which the cull is based. He starts by stating that 2010 is the International Year of ­Biodiversity. The Welsh assembly is celebrating the occasion by launching a project to exterminate the badger. He continues:

In 2007, after nine years of research, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB sent its final report to the UK government. It discovered that "badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain". Rather than suppressing the disease, killing badgers appears to spread it.

The researchers had killed badgers across 30 areas, each of 100 square kilometres. They found that when the badgers were culled in response to local outbreaks of TB, the slaughter "increased, rather than reduced" the incidence of the disease in cattle: the level of infection rose by some 20%. When badgers were killed proactively (culled annually, regardless of whether cattle were infected), the incidence of TB inside the killing zone was reduced by 23% – but the incidence outside increased by 25%. The reason is that the killing changes the behaviour of the badgers: they travel more and mix more, either to escape the slaughter or to investigate the ecological space it opens up. The economic costs of proactive culling, the study found, were 40 times greater than the benefits.

But the old reflex dies hard. As the scientific group pointed out, "agricultural and veterinary leaders continue to believe, in spite of overwhelming ­scientific evidence to the contrary, that the main approach to cattle TB control must involve some form of badger population control". It noted "considerable reluctance to accept and embrace ­scientific findings". The Welsh government shares this reluctance. In announcing her extermination policy last week, Elin Jones claimed that the cull would be conducted according to "the requirements outlined by the ­Independent Scientific Group". But the ISG couldn't have made itself clearer: badger culling of any kind won't work. Instead, governments should do more to control the way that cattle are kept, tested and moved. This was a message that farmers and the Welsh government didn't want to hear.

The policy Elin Jones announced last week is even worse than this suggests. Her culling experiment is actually testing two variables: exterminating badgers and better management of cattle. Yet there are no experimental controls (study areas in which one or both methods are not being tried), so there is no means of telling which of the two measures is working, or whether changes in the incidence of the disease have anything to do with the experiment. There's a scientific term for a study that simultaneously tests two variables while using no controls: worthless. The Welsh experiment has nothing to do with science and everything to do with appeasing farmers.

It is a compelling argument that is worth considering as we move towards the judicial review challenging this decision, launched by the Badger Trust.

Good Guardian article...its all about the farm slurry (liquified manure used as fertiliser) where the tuberculosis bacterium originates; if cattle are left to trounce about slurry in farmyards they will get it on their feet which eventually can be ingested when grazing and then passed about from animal to animal.
Cryptosporidium, e-coli, polio virus, anthrax also originate in farm slurry.
perhaps what is really needed if a cull of those who continue to ignore reserach findings and persue the extermination of speceis for no better reason other than they can.
Well done Peter for opposing this barbaric and pointless exercise.It has been to my eternal shame as a welshman that this degenerate act has put wales on the world map.
It is also devastating for democracy to see so many AM's so obviously catering to the farming lobby.
Jim Hughes
Its hard to believe that 90% of assembly members voted in favour of the badger cull.Have they not read the scientific evidence, and results of previous culls,that proves that it is an unjustifiable slaughter that does nothing to eliminate tb in cattle.
Alun Davies said,he was elected to take difficult decisions,true, but he was elected to act for the people of Wales, and the majority of the people, do not want a badger cull.
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