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Monday, October 31, 2011

So this is what they mean by science-led

In all fairness, whatever one's views for or against the debates in the Welsh Assembly about the need for a badger cull have been fairly measured. That does not appear to be the case in Parliament where, according to the latest Badger Trust press release, wild exaggeration is the order of the day:

The Badger Trust is astonished that a Member of Parliament should claim in a debate that a farmer in his constituency “saw what he thought were 30 to 40 badgers, full of TB, staggering around and unable to stand up” under a yard light.

For Mr James Gray (Con, N. Wiltshire) to introduce such a ludicrous, unsubstantiated piece of hearsay is a misuse of his position as well as perpetuating the grossly misleading piece of folk lore that farmers can “tell” when a wild animal has TB, even in semi darkness.

Firstly the farmer only “thought” the 30 to 40 badgers were “full of TB”. There is no live test for bovine TB in badgers, so the farmer could have had no grounds for his assumption. The farmer was not even sure what the animals he had seen were, nor how many there were. “In fact it is extremely unlikely that 30 badgers would be seen together”,'.says David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust.

Windy assertions of this kind can have no part in a serious parliamentary discussion of what purports to be a “science-based” policy to eradicate bovine TB, but could lead only to a guesswork-led muddle.

Thank you Peter for putting this ‘myth’ on your blog.
One point - I remember well an Assembly Member addressing fellow members with great emotion in his voice, that badgers had to be killed to prevent the spread of bovine TB if only to prevent HIS granddaughter acquiring the disease. With pasteurisation, milk and dairy products present NO hazard to human health. His statement was allowed to go unchallenged by fellow AMs.
So much for ‘fairly measured’
and in this case a statement NOT science based
"Not science, and certainly not badger science, as we know it Jim"
Whilst James Gray is evidently wrong about the ability to spot an infected badger just by looking at it, the same can be said for the 'successful results of the experimental badger vaccination project by the wildlife trust in Gloucestershire. How do they know that a badger is NOT infected by just looking at one ? They just applied a vaccination and did not follow up their programme with testing. We know a vaccination does not cure already infected badgers. There is a way to tell if a badger does not pose an infection risk just by looking at it. Scientifically ...when it's dead.
Nobody has claimed that vaccination cures TB but it does prevent it spreading and over a four or five year period (the average life cycle of a badger) it can all but eradicate TB in an area, especially if cattle are vaccinated too. The trials in Gloucestershire are being conducted scientifically, and will be peer-reviewed, unlike James Gray's speech.
Scientifically, it's not possible to say a vaccination programme will prevent a disease spreading let alone eradicate it, unless the effects are known and measured. It depends on host population density, transmissibility (with bTB a number of vectors) and penetration of the vaccination programme into a given population. A cull has a direct incision into these variables, by removing a vector, as long as the mitigation of the effects of perturbation is dealt with. Vaccination is, to say the least, guesswork, unpredictable, uncontrollable and can be invalidated by any one of these variables that conspire to make it ineffective. Typhoid Mary springs to mind. Non only does this example explain perturbation, but also defines the need to vaccinate each and every suspect which is not possible in a wild population.
Anonymous says that you can't vaccinate them all. This may be true but like human vaccination the one's you do get don't get the disease and as we know(or can find out) where badgers live and they were quite confident they could trap and kill them all, the only difference would be a needle instead of a bullet. Which one do you prefer is the answer not which is cheaper. When (not if) the oral vaccine is available this becomes even easier. Combined with cattle vaccination, like Smallpox this can be eradicated. We just need the will.
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