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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Control landowners, not badgers

Yesterday's Guardian contains an excellent article by George Monbiot on the proposed badger culls in Wales and England. As it has been driving traffic to this blog all day I felt it was worth reciprocating.

The governments of both countries believe they can help arrest TB by killing badgers. The Welsh government will do it by sending in its own contractors; the Westminster government will do it by licensing farmers to kill badgers on their own land and at their own expense. Both governments' consultations on the killing end next month.

There is only one rigorous scientific trial of badger culling. This is the work carried out by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, led by Professor John Bourne. It took nine years and cost us £49m, and it is now being comprehensively ignored. Both administrations claim to be basing their culls on the outcome of this trial. Both are doing anything but.

You don't have to read far to discover this. Bourne attached a covering letter to his report, in the vain hope that this would prevent anyone from misrepresenting his findings. Here is what it says: "Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better." The main source of infection, it continued, is transmission not from badgers to cattle, but from cattle to cattle. "The rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone."

At an electrifying meeting in London Zoo last week, Professor Bourne and one of the other scientists who conducted the trial, Dr Rosie Woodroffe, attacked the misuse of their work by both governments. Badger culling, they pointed out, reduces the proportion of cattle herds with TB inside the kill zone, but temporarily raises it outside the zone. It breaks up the badgers' social structures, pushing them out of their territories, which means that they spread the disease to healthy populations, and to cattle. Even when carried out rigorously, culling does very little to help. But the Westminster government has chosen the worst of all possible options: licensing farmers to kill badgers. This, Professor Bourne's report points out, "would entail a substantial risk of increasing the incidence of cattle TB and spreading the disease".

He makes the case for vaccination and rigorous testing as the best solution to the spread of bTB. Will either Government take any notice? I hope so, but I am not holding my breath.
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