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Saturday, March 01, 2014

English badger cull teeters from farce to fiasco

Those who thought that the English badger cull could not get more farcical will have been disabused of that whimsy yesterday with the leaking of the conclusions of the Independent Expert Panel appointed by Defra to evaluate its implementation.

The Ecologist reports that the badger culls were an outright failure. They killed well under the target number of animals, and were unable to meet Defra's own 'humaneness test':

First, fewer than half of the badger population was killed in both areas over the six-week period - against the target to kill 70% of badgers in each area.

This is worse than preliminary assessments, which indicated that 58% of badgers had been killed in the Somerset area, and 30% in the Gloucestershire area. The IEP used a more precise methodology, accounting for the discrepancy in the figures.

Research by Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London carried out in the 1990s showed that if the target to kill 70% of badgers in six weeks was not achieved, the spread of bovine TB (BTB) - which the badger culls are intended to reduce - could actually be increased as infected badgers moved into new areas.

Up to 18% of badgers took over 5 minutes to die

The trial culls also failed to meet the principal humaneness criterion set by Defra, which is for no more than 5% of badgers to take more than five minutes to die. Depending on the assumptions made, the IEP found that between 6.4% and 18% of shot badgers exceeded the 5-minute time limit. It also found a "wide variation in the effectiveness and humaneness" of the contractors engaged to kill the badgers.

Professor Woodroffe told the BBC's Phallab Ghosh that the panel's findings "show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria. I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State (Owen Patterson) to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle."

The cull, she added, "has cost a fortune and probably contributed nothing in terms of disease control, which is really unfortunate."

So the cull actually increased the incidence of bTB and proved to be a particularly cruel and inhumane way to kill badgers, many of which suffered despite Ministers' assurances to the contrary.

What makes this farce even worse is that UK Ministers are ignoring all these findings and are determined to press on with the experiment. Whatever happened to evidence-based policy?

After an initial hiccup Wales seems to have got it right. Would it really hurt for England to learn from us.
The UK deficit in dairy products has doubled from £0.5bn in 2000 to £1.2bn in 2010. In the worst affected areas over 50% of badgers are infected. In Gwent 1 in 4 herds have been subject to TB restrictions. It is pointless crowing that the cull has failed, when there is a serious problem with as yet no solution.
As you know Gwyn I have long advocated an alternative, namely better controls on cattle movements, and vaccination of badgers and cattle.
Your first commenter is incorrect. There is NO evidence that 50% of badgers in cull areas have tb. That is pure conjecture. It is l pointless crowing for a cull when clearly it is not working and could actually make things worse. Time to trial vaccination as Wales are doing. With a 30% reduction in tb, it appears you are doing something right.
It's intensely depressing when pro-cullers claim as fact material which is either bare-facedly false or unsupported by objective, published evidence.

I know of no evidence to support Gwyn Williams claim that 50% Welsh badgers are bTB infected. To my knowledge, there hasn't been any recent, large-scale scientific survey of TB in Welsh badgers. If there had been I'd have expected to know about it.

Gwyn William's claim is also undermined by the evidence that of the 1200 Welsh badgers vaccinated by trained vaccinators NONE were visibly ill with TB. If 50% Welsh badgers are sick with TB, you'd have expected some of them to be displaying obvious signs of illness.

The trained vaccinators were able to call up qualified vets to give a "second opinion" on any trapped badger that appeared unhealthy. Any sick animals were to be put down by the vets and would - presumably - be tested post-mortem for the presence of TB. As already said, there were no badgers that the trained vaccinators or the vets suspected of having TB ... pretty good evidence that the Welsh badgers are fairly clear of TB.
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