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Friday, August 05, 2016

New report again shows badger cull without scientific basis

Those of us who have been arguing for some time that the UK Government's badger cull is misguided, ineffective and without scientific basis may feel further vindicated by the latest study, reported in the Daily Telegraph.

The paper says that for the first time, scientists have proved that badgers rarely come into contact with cows, which means the disease must be spread through bodily fluids on the ground or in feeding troughs:

Scientists at Imperial College and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) attached GPS collars to hundreds of badgers and cows and monitored how close they came to each other at 20 farms in Devon and Cornwall.

Over a course of 18 months the badgers did not come within 16 feet (five metres) of each other. It is thought the animals would need to be within five feet for disease to be spread.

The researchers concluded that TB was being passed between the two populations through pasture contamination, which also meant that infected cows could be passing it between themselves, and farms could remain disease hotspots even when animals have been culled.

Scientists said it proved that cows were not the "innocent victims" of outbreaks, but probably equally culpable of spreading disease both to themselves and to badgers.

Prof Rosie Woodroffe, Senior Research Fellow at (ZSL), said: “The badger TB issue is very sensitive. It does not mean that badgers don’t give TB to cattle.

“We have very strong evidence to show badgers do give TB to cattle. What this suggests is more likely that this is happening through the environment rather than direct contact.

“We’ve also got some pretty strong evidence that cattle give TB to badgers. This helps to explain why TB is so hard to control. It can survive a long time in the environment.

“This study raises the possibility that some elements of cattle-to-cattle transmission might happen through the environment. TB isn’t managed in cattle that way. If a herd gets TB, they are kept in isolation but the pasture that they have grazed on, their dung is not treated as an infectious substance. “That would be a big change to TB management to cattle."

The implications of these findings are that vaccination and disease management are better ways of controlling the spread of this disease than culling wildlife.

If DEFRA and the Welsh Government are serious about tackling this disease then they need to protect animals from getting it in the first place and ensure that where farms have been infected then the environment the animals live in is treated as well to prevent further infection.
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