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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Questions on the badger cull

With John Griffiths newly installed as Environment Minister, questions are already being asked as to whether he plans to proceed with the previous Government's plans for a badger cull in North Pembrokeshire.

This was an initiative led by the Plaid Cymru side of One Wales in defiance of all the scientific evidence and commonsense. There never was much enthusiasm for it on the Labour benches.

Lawyers for the Badger Trust have already been in touch with the Minister to ask about his intentions. They say that there is very little time for a statement on this issue:

The Badger Trust is calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to reconsider the Order made by the previous administration to kill badgers as part of a programme to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The Trust's solicitors have been instructed to seek the views of members of the new Government in Wales including newly appointed Minister for the Environment, John Griffiths. The Trust has also asked for an urgent reply because if there were not to be a pause, at the very least, in the killing programme, it would need to proceed with legal action next week.

In a letter to Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, the Trust has written: “We are … writing to ask whether it is your intention to revoke the Order so that you have the opportunity to review the current position”. The Trust has also asked to meet Mr Jones to discuss whether a legal challenge to the Order would be necessary. The letter adds: “In our opinion it would be preferable to work with your Government to discuss alternative methods of controlling bovine TB”.

Before the recent election the solicitors acting for Badger Trust wrote to the Welsh Assembly Government Legal Services Department setting out its intention to issue judicial review proceedings to challenge the Order in the absence of confirmation that it would be revoked. The Badger Trust's earlier challenge to a previous bTB eradication Order was successful and badger culling was abandoned.

Pat Hayden, vice chairman of the Trust, says: “It is our sincere belief that the [latest] Order was based on serious errors of science and law. If the proposed cull were permitted it would have no significant impact on the control of bTB in the Intensive Action Area. In fact the improved testing and cattle controls that have already been implemented in Wales are showing improvements without a single badger having been killed.

If the previous Welsh Assembly Government had remained in power we would not have hesitated to proceed because Ministers had indicated the cull would begin after May 31st - although they refuse to confirm the start date. However, Labour’s election manifesto has promised ‘a science-led approach to evaluate and review the best way of tackling bTB’”.

The Trust says proposals laid down in the Order are extremely expensive, and the threat of a cull is already having a detrimental effect on rural communities and those who depend on tourism in the Intensive Action Area of Pembrokeshire. The forced imposition of a cull also raises serious human rights issues in relation to landowners’ peaceful enjoyment of property and right to respect for private life and home. According to WAG’s own figures in the annexes to its public consultation the cull would cost far more than it could save. The Trust is aware, from unsolicited input, that it is likely to be very damaging to the Welsh economy in terms not only of tourism but of people threatening to boycott Welsh products.

In the meantime an injectable vaccine is available and already in use in a TB hotspot area of Gloucestershire. No one doubts that vaccination works. It will shortly be used by the National Trust on one of its large estates in Devon. The Badger Trust are currently investigating the possibility of having members of its Groups trained and licensed as vaccinators in order that they can assist in extending the vaccination programme.

Surely the new Minister should follow the logic of the case, put a hold on the cull and look again at the vaccination option as the way forward.
Don't let the truth cloud your judgement, Peter. You should note that the legislative road to the badger cull was started prior to the 'OneWales' coalition of the last government. It was started by the then Rural Affairs Minister, who was, errrr, Carwyn Jones. Just because it was a Plaid minister who had the competence to bring forward the cull into reality, it does not mean that Plaid has a monopoly on the policy.

The 'Badger Trust' is no longer seeking legal challenge on 'scientific grounds', it is making a challenge under the 'Human Right' not to allow a cull on the property of objecting landowners. It is also incorrect to say the injectable vaccine is 'in-use' in Gloucestershire. It is not. It's a field trail designed to find out what are the consequences in a wild population for the fact that the vaccine does not cure already infected badgers and to measure the population penetration of a vaccination programme. Previous vaccinations in a wild populations has found a reducing benefit as you end up vaccination an increasing number of already vaccinated animals, and 'trap shy' ones never get vaccinated.

The Gloucestershire experiment is a field trail. It may conclude that population density of the target species is critical, which would imply a cull is a pre-cursor of any vaccination programme.
It seems that you are not clear on the truth yourself. Carwyn Jones specifically ruled out a cull when he was Rural Affairs Minister and all the work on the legislation from start to finish was done by Elin Jones.

As for competence, you will recall she had her first attempt overturned by the courts because she had failed to consult properly amongst a number of other factors. She was singularly incompetent in the way she pursued her policy.

The Badger Trust is not able to pursue a challenge on the merits of the policy because that is a matter of policy and not one for the courts. They can only challenge on process issues as they did the first time when they won. That does not make the cull scientifically sound because it is not and there is expert opinion to back up that judgement.

Whether it is a trial or not, it is 'using' the injectable vaccine. This vaccine has proved to be effective. Now we need to test it in the field. As the lifespan of a badger is only 4 to 5 years then over that period a comprehensive vaccination process will virtually eliminate bTB in the badger population over that period, shy badgers or not. That applies to infected badgers as well.

Oh and as the cull depends on trapping and shooting badgers then those who would be missed by a vaccination programme will also be missed by the cull so there is no advantage to the Minister's preferred option.

In any case I would argue that we should not be vaccinating badgers in isolation but we should also vaccinate the cattle as well.

You may speculate on the outcome of the Gloucester trial but I prefer to wait for the results. The problem is that those advocating a cull have never been keen on the outcomes of trials as was evidenced by their dismissal of the previous cull trials that showed that a cull is not a valid option.

Pembrokeshire is an ideal place to carry out a further vaccination trial alongside planned restrictions on cattle movements and management. If it is good enough for the National Trust it should be good enough for the Welsh Government.
No, you are wrong Peter. Hope this is the last time I stand up for Carwyn, but he did not rule out a badger cull when he was Rural Affairs minister. His statement of December 2005 was that he ruled out any "immediate" cull, but in doing so instigated a badger population survey and instigate a series of publicly funded research, which included the 'badgers found dead survey'. He also instigated the first consultation exercise on public perception of a cull. These are not the actions of someone opposed in principle to culling.

You are also wrong to say that the appeal court findings were over failure to consult. The court finding was very specific in three areas, (a) that the 2009 order applied to whole of Wales, (b) that the efficacy could not be proved scientifically, and (c) on balance the minister could not prove the benefits of the cull outweighed the ingoing death of cattle from the disease. The first issue is dealt with, in the 2010 order. The last two issues have been dealt with by subsequent analysis of data in the scientific community. This is the reason why the Badger Trust has changed their type of challenge.

On your final point about trapping having the same issues for culling as vaccination, that's daft. In a cull, trapped badgers are shot, and do not continue to infect. In a vaccination programme, if the trapped badger already has bTB the vaccination has no effect, and it continues to spread the disease.
A brilliant response Peter. I hope that when the badger cull issue is put to the vote again that the vote is a free vote. Many AMs although opposed to a cull followed the whip at the last vote and let loyalty to their party override their conscience. Something I could never do and just can’t understand.
At a personal level and I’m not alone here we as a family we have boycotted Welsh produce for the past three years. We used to visit Carmarthen frequently when my parents were still alive. A highlight of the visit was to visit the Waverley, have an excellent meal there and return to Cardiff with local organic produce. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to do that now.
Yesterday we also received the Viva expose that farmers and visitors to markets in SW Wales weren’t even following basic bio security measures. The farmers must put their own house in order. (though in all fairness there have been significant improvements). They should also listen to their customers, most against a cull or they will lose many of them.
Anon: I am quite happy to spread the blame for this cull to include Labour, after all they voted for it and were in Government. However, your account of Carwyn's actions does not negate my statement that he specifically ruled out a cull. Whether that was immediately or not, it was still ruled out.

I did not say that the appeal court overturned the cull because of 'failure to consult'. I am well aware that there were three reasons for rejecting it, the first of which accords with my statement that the Minster failed to consult PROPERLY, that is she consulted on the wrong geographical area.

Whether the last two appeal decisions have been dealt with in the subsequent order is a matter of opinion, but I would reiterate my argument that in any case they are process issues rather that a judgement on the policy itself, which according to the latest evidence is scientifically flawed.

On your final point, the actuall incidence of bTB in badgers is relatively small. It is true that an infected badger could still transmit the disease but they could not do so to vaccinated badgers or to vaccinated cattle. They would die out within a few years.

There is a bank of evidence available which proves that vaccination is viable (and that culling itself does not work) to prevent disease transmission. Most recently, research by VLA (Veterinary Laboratories Agency) and FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency) showed ‘a clear effect of vaccination on badger disease’.
Interesting anon mentions the badger found dead survey. Does he know how many badgers found dead in the IAA had bovine TB?
Answer 3
The injectable vaccine *is* in use both in a Government led programme near Stroud and soon, privately, in two other areas. Private firms such as Ecocon (info@ecocon.co.uk) already offer badger vaccination services.

These are 'trials' only in the sense that they are proving the practical and logistical issues involved in large scale deployment - the vaccine is already shown to work, and to work in a *very* heavily infected population (43% of badgers tested had TB).
In contrast, the Badger Found Dead survey and the Road Traffic Accident figures 'Anonymous' refers to show only about 5% of badgers in the proposed cull area have TB.
cf. http://www.pembrokeshireagainstthecull.org.uk/FAQ.php#30badgers

But even if you accept Elin Jones' assertion that 30% of badgers in the area have TB - how does that effect 'Anonymous's argument about infected badgers continuing to spread infection after being vaccinated?
1) 30% of vaccinations will have no effect. But in a cull 70% of badgers slaughtered will be perfectly healthy, but their deaths will still contribute to the 'perturbation' effect.
2) the models still show that vaccination will have essentially the same effect on bovine TB in *cattle* as a cull. But a cull is experimentally shown to *double* the prevalence of bovine TB in badgers, whereas a vaccination programme is conservatively predicted to halve it over 5 years. And vaccination is cheaper, easier, and will benefit, not harm, the public perception of farmers.

At the end of the day Elin Jones' Order was entirely about forcing entry onto private land against the owners' wishes and the scientific advice, and criminalising what would otherwise be legal peaceful protest. Given the existence of the option of vaccination, that is utterly unjustifiable.
Let's hope the new Minister embraces democracy and the recent public ocnsultation upon the badger Cull; that 83% of respondents were against the cull.
I hope that the new Minister does see sense. I have been boycotting welsh farm produce and west wales since this horror started. I don't miss the produce much, the farmers' idea of its quality and mine don't gell, but I'd quite like to go to Tenby for a week later in the year!
How can the cull be against scientific advice if the Chief Veterinary Officer of Wales supported it. Aren't Veterinary Surgeons scientists?
Just another comment, I was unaware there was a 'Badger found dead survey' going on.

Over the last 8 years i have seen 40 plus badgers dead in ditch's, roadsides etc They used to lie there and degrade, the stench was unbeleievable. The last few months i have noticed that Badgers do not stay put in dirch and decay , they vanish after a few hours, I live 4 mile from IAPA
I am a Labour party member in England and have been active in support of the party at the last two elections. Today I had a reminder from the party that my membership is due for renewal. I am waiting to see what the party in Wales does on the cull.If it proceeds with this disgraceful policy then my membership reminder will be sent back explaining why. Labour as a whole will be held responsible.
just hope that the new welsh government see science.

to anonymous who asks if chief vets are not scientists - probably but just because you are a scientist doesn't seem to mean you can read the results of long scientific studies that clearly state that killing badgers is not effective against bTB - nor is it economically useful. As the arguments to eradicate bTB often seem to be about money why aren't the welsh government taking note of this important point?

a link to a vet at warwick university whose field of study is the spread of disease in agriculture http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/mcvernon
Let's all tap in to the culture of the some of the Farming community who live near the IAPA areas.
It is common that they will kill or uproot a badger and leave the animal on the side of the road to serve two purposes.
i) to keep it away from cows
ii) to show their neighbours a sa 'trophy'
I would like anonymous to identify the scientific data analysis that he claims proves that the 'benefits' of a cull outweigh the ongoing deaths of cattle, particularly in light of the DEFRA statistics, showing that 45% fewer cattle have been slaughtered due to bovine TB in West Wales over the last 2 years, since the stringent cattle measures and movement restrictions have been in place.

Undoubtedly, had the Badger Trust's
legal challenge been unsuccessful and the cull had proceeded last year, anonymous and his fellow pro-cullers would have ascribed any improvement to killing badgers.

As Derek mentioned, there is still a lot more room for farmers to improve the biosecurity of their own operations, before interference with wildlife could be seen to be justified in the eyes of the wider public, the overwhelming majority of whom oppose the cull.
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