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Saturday, October 19, 2013

The cost of a failed policy

Yesterday's Daily Mail reveals the true cost of the UK Government's failed attempt to tackle bovine TB through a cull of badgers. They say that 708 badgers have been killed in Gloucestershire, 30% of the population. But that is far short of the target of 70%. As a result the action is actually likely to spread bTB.

Not only is the cull morally wrong but it has proved to be a blunt instrument. Because there is no testing of badgers, the shooters cannot be certain that they have killed infected animals. For all they know, even if they get to 70%, the remaining badgers may be infected and continue to pass that infection onto any other animal they come in contact with.

The Government's objection to vaccination is that it is expensive and that it does not cure those animals that are already infected. Well it seems that their cull has the same flaws. According to the Mail the overall costs of the two culls, including policing animal rights protesters, is estimated by campaigners at some £3.5 million.

With a total of 1,558 dead animals, this works out at £2,246 per badger. In contrast, vaccinating badgers against bovine tuberculosis in Wales was less than a third of the cost at £662 per animal.

The real difference though is that once a non-infected badger is vaccinated it can no longer pass on the disease. With a cull, the badgers will repopulate in a few years and the UK Government will be back to square one.

It is time to stop this farcical cull and adopt a more humane, evidenced-based vaccination policy which, with proper cattle movement controls will really make a difference.
In 2012, a total of 1,424 badgers were vaccinated in Wales, with 15% or 200 already infected so the vaccine will have no effect. It is now 2013, and just over 40% of the badgers successfully vaccinated last year will have had and average of 1.3 cubs. Vaccination is not hereditary, so the new badger generation in Wales will need vaccination this year. Back to square one. In Wales £1million was spent in 2012, and would have been necessary to spend it again this year, with no effective reduction in the prevalence of the infection. I'm open to considering any evidence you have Peter, that show reductions in bTB infection in Welsh badgers. Convince me. You're in the Senedd, give me the Welsh results. I don't need any evidence to show that a dead English badger does not breed.
I'm no expert either, Anonymous, but you're wrong on a number of points I believe.

There'll be a decline in badger to badger bTB transmission where a substantial number of the population has been vaccinated. Human experience is that if you vaccinate around 70% target population you wipe out the disease (except for very occasional, very local outbreaks)- it's known as "herd immunity".

Because of the "herd immunity" effect, vaccinating a high percentage of badger adults (50%?) protects up to 80% unvaccinated cubs from bTB.
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