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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Science and the English badger cull

The UK Government was left a bit isolated yesterday when the man whose report they have misinterpreted to justify the English badger cull, made it clear that their policy was complete nonsense.

Today's Independent quotes Lord Krebs as saying that the plan to cull badgers is "crazy". The Government is proposing to shoot 70 per cent of badgers in large cull area because they believe that the Krebs report has identified this figure as the optimum number to produce a 16 per cent drop in TB in cattle. The study says that killing any fewer could actually increase infection rates.

However, the report's conclusions were based on a nine year study in a carefully defined area and properly controlled conditions. Subsequent reports found that the long term impact of the cull was neutral, whilst the impact on surrounding areas was huge, with large increases in the incidence of bTB as badgers fled from their fate, a phenomenon known as perturbation.

Not only is the science of the English cull dodgy but it is based on a deliberate misinterpretation of the Kreb report and subsequent studies by the scientists who conducted it.

Surely, even the current government must be embarrassed enough by Lord Krebs' latest intervention to pause and rethink their policy. He has said that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' plan was misguided because they could have no way of knowing the badger population in the trial areas:

"I would go down the vaccination and biosecurity route rather than this crazy scheme that may deliver very small advantage," he said.

That is the route being taken by the Welsh Government. For once Defra should cross the border and learn from the more enlightened and science-based policy being followed here.
I heard him interviewed on the subject on the radio yesterday. He could not have been more authoritative and confident in his findings.
The only good news is that the farmers themselves will have to fund the kill to the tune of £3650000. They are going to look a little sick in a few years time when the kill will perhaps reduce the incidence of bovine TB by a few % but more likely increase the incidence in surrounding areas.

Why did the coalition government stop the vaccination of badger in pilot areas and I share the frustration of farmers – where is the cattle vaccine promised ages ago and why is acceptance by the EU not yet cleared? Vaccination of cattle then excludes consideration of wildlife.

When the Welsh Government introduced a badger vaccination programme the WA came to age (my view).
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