Queen guitarist Brian May, fronting a ‘Stop the Cull’ demo in Bristol. Source: thisisbristol
THE GENERALIST urges you to sign the e-petition calling for the government to stop the planned badger cull (which may have begun today). The petition has already received 150,000 signatures which means it now stands a good chance of being debated in the House. The more signatures on this petition the better.
The government’s own Chief Scientist has refused to endorse the cull and more than 30 eminent UK animal disease experts, in a letter to The Observer, describe the cull as a "costly distraction" that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.
Successive governments have carried out various culling operations since the 1970s, none of which have solved the problem.
In 1997, after an independent review by government advisor and eminent scientist Sir John Krebs, a £50 million, ten-year Randomised Badger Culling Trial began - under the direction of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB, chaired by Professor John Bourne. During the trial, government operatives trapped and killed around 11,000 badgers. .
In 2007 the (ISG) published its findings on the results of the cull, Professor Bourne wrote to David Miliband, who was then Environment Secretary:
‘The ISG’s work … has reached two key conclusions. First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain….
Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs…. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.’
Lord Krebs, told the BBC in September that the government should choose vaccination and control of cattle movements rather than what he termed the ‘crazy’ culling scheme ‘that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver none’.
Steve Jones, a dairy farmer in the Forest of Dean, writes on The Guardian website:
‘The government justifies a badger cull by claiming it's to help farmers. I have 35 years' livestock management experience, and I live in the heart of the Forest of Dean – the cull area – and I disagree. Killing badgers isn't the long-term or sustainable solution to bovine TB control that farmers so desperately need. Shooting badgers is politically motivated, not scientifically driven, and farmers need to realise they're being sold a lame duck… Meticulous biosecurity and sympathetic animal husbandry are the key to stamping out TB in cattle, not shooting British wildlife.’
Sir David Attenborough has added his voice to the many protesting about the government’s plans.
The bovine TB issue is a complex one which requires a mixture of solutions. Certainly much tighter biosecurity measures and ‘sympathetic animal husbandry’. Stress is a big factor in triggering the disease.
The longer-term solution is vaccines for both cattle and badgers.
Briefly, a new TB vaccine for cattle is in development in the UK at and a new diagnostic test has been discovered, says The Independent
Currently, vaccinating cattle against bovine tuberculosis is banned throughout Europe, because there is no way of distinguishing in current diagnostic tests between an animal that has merely been vaccinated, and an animal that has actually contracted the disease.
Vaccinated but healthy cattle would thus appear contaminated and could not be sold or traded abroad – and TB vaccination of cattle has been prohibited across the EU since 1978.
However, researchers led by Professor Glyn Hewinson, of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, have developed a so-called "diva" test – meaning differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals – which makes the distinction between the two clear.
Clearing both vaccine and test through the regulatory agencies in the UK will take years. The bigger hurdle is then to persuade all the EU nations to agree to overturn the ban and allow a vaccination programme to take place.
On the badger front, an injectable TB vaccine was licensed in 2010. Badgers are individually cage-trapped for the injection. This is the route taken by the Welsh Assembly who are funding a mass vaccination programme rather than a cull. Development of an oral vaccine is a priority. This would be easier and less costly to administer.
REFORM FARMING PRACTICES: THE REAL SOLUTION
A catalogue of failures in how England's farmers prevent their cattle spreading TB between herds was uncovered by an official European Commission inspection, the Guardian has learned, undermining the case for the imminent cull of badgers.
But the EC report, based on inspections made in September 2011, found numerous "shortcomings", including missed targets on both the rapid removal of cattle with TB and the follow-up of missed tests, and "weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision". All these problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle.
‘Farming ‘shortcomings’ undermine case for badger culls’ by Damian Carrington. The Guardian 4th Oct 2012