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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Over-egging the badger pudding

I am still not quite up to speed on the blogging front after my short break, which may explain the heading to this post. However, I could not let this story go from last Monday.

I am on my way to the Royal Welsh Show myself this morning so perhaps I will get the chance to take the matter up personally, but the press release from the Farmers Union of Wales claiming that a badger cull would substantially reduce bovine TB in cattle defies belief.

They have published their own paper, which they say suggests that badger culling in north Pembrokeshire could reduce bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) incidences by around a third, and they say this could even be a significant underestimate:

The paper, prepared by the union's agricultural policy director Dr Nicholas Fenwick, uses computer modelling and the results of previous scientific studies to predict the outcome of badger culling in a number of areas.

It suggests that a badger cull in north Pembrokeshire could reduce bTB herd incidences by 30% during a five-year cull, and by 32% in a three-and-a-half-year period following culling.

They say: “This paper builds upon the modelling work done by the Independent Science Group in 2007 and looks at what would happen in a range of different situations if the results of the English badger culling trials were replicated in other areas.”

The work also highlights the fact that legislation to minimise the types of problems experienced during the English trials, such as obstruction and interference with trapping, is likely to add significantly to the positive effects seen in England.

So actually the English trials do not confirm their findings at all because they were interfered with? And do they expect the Pembrokeshire trial to be any different?

As has been pointed out by other scientists this “paper” is not peer reviewed by independent scientists and thus has no current credibility and let's face it, in promoting this research the FUW are hardly a disinterested party. The recent court ruling stipulates that before animals can be culled under the Animal Health Act a scientifically sound body of evidence is required.

The current data from the Independent Scientific Group does not suggest that culling badgers is effective. There is no other sound real data on this subject and thus the FUW model in isolation does not meet this requirement and hence cannot be used to push for a cull.

In actual fact the most up-to-date study by the ISG, after nine years of research, concluded 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.

Even the Rural Affairs Minister only claimed a 9% reduction in bTB to the Court of Appeal, on which basis the court said that it could not be justified. In the face of that, isn't a claim of a 33% reduction overreaching just a little bit?

It is a good try but does not convince anybody other than those already committed to this dead end solution. Perhaps the FUW would be better off looking at the vaccination options being trialled in England and Ireland instead.

Update: The DEFRA data on the latest figures on bTB in cattle sourced here show “a 64% drop in cattle slaughtered” in Wales. For the first quarter of 2010 they are:

The Minister should be congratulated for securing such an improvement without having to resort to a cull.

Further Update: I am indebted to Dr. Dan Forman of Swansea University for drawing my attention to the final paper prepared by the ISG on the results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (released July 2010). A link to this peer reviewed information can be found here.

The paper concludes that there is no long term benefit of badger culling on the incidence on bovine TB in cattle. The authors of this work (all members of the ISG) conclude:

“Our findings show that the reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results, combined with evaluation of alternative culling methods, suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain."
Perhaps we could have a recipe for "Badger Pudding"?

Myself, I think the NFU are clutching at Straws....
Go Go Peter! Give the FUW a bit of stick,
I wonder if that farming body thinks everyone is stupid and if they knock up some stats people will believe it

The figures just published from DEFRA show a huge drop in bovine TB! Presumably due to more and better testing in Wales, plus cattle movement restrictions. And without any culling of badgers.
If you don't cull the badgers they will get so hungry that they will eat all the calves, lambs, foals, poultry, voles... you name it and they will eat it, hope they bite a few protectionist NIMBYs while they are at it.

And I'm not a FFARMWR..
The latest issue of Gwlad TB Special Summer 2010, reports that for critical years, WAG was compensating farmers at well over the market rate for TB infected cattle.

We shouldn't ignore the epidemiological role of the perverse incentive inherent in the historic massive overcompensation paid to farmers for TB infected stock. In 2003 the National Audit Office concluded that TB compensation was at least 50% (and up to 100%) higher than underlying market prices for similar animals. It was only in October 2007 that WAG introduced set thresholds and appointed Monitor Valuers to require justification, including photographic evidence, for higher valuations. The thresholds were then reduced in 2009 to reflect market trends. Peak payments were reached in 2006. At the very least, there was no incentive to comply with basic hygiene. At worst, there were documented cases of farmers deliberately infecting stock with TB in order to qualify for compensation payments.

This will have contributed to disease spread and is directly attributable to protracted financial negligence on the part of the government. This observation is validated by the fact that there has been such a massive reduction in new cases in Wales since compensation has been linked to compliance with rigorous testing, along with biosecurity and cattle measures.

I hope you get an opportunity to raise this issue with the Minister.
brilliant comment Rowena. I cannot see in a Free market economy why livesotck farmers are compensated at all. At first glance to me it seems corrupt and your emphasis on overpayment ties in.
I wonder if other business' are compensated in the same way. FAt chance. It go's down that many assembly members are directly or indirectly involved in this cruel trade and that is why Bovine tB compenation exists.
I just checked in the Gwlad Summer 2010 TB Special (page 8):


and found that compensation reductions triggered by overdue tests came into force on 25th May 2010, so contrary to my comment above, the 2010 first quarter reductions will not have been affected by that particular measure.

The years of overcompensation up until 2007 certainly did have an effect on the increasing infection rate, though:

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