An independent review of the United Kingdom’s controversial bovine tuberculosis (bTB) strategy, has shifted the blame for the spread of the disease from badgers to farmers.
The much-anticipated Bovine TB Strategy Review was published today. One of its key findings is that there is “disappointingly low” uptake of basic biosecurity measures to limit the spread of bTB that costs UK taxpayers £100-million (USD130-million) in compensation every year.
“In particular, the poor take up of on-farm biosecurity measures and the extent of trading in often high-risk cattle is, we believe, severely hampering disease control,” it said.
The author of the Review, Sir Charles Godfray, professor of zoology at Oxford University was quoted in The Independent as saying:
“If I had to say more one than the other it’s definitely more on the cattle to cattle side (than badger to cattle infection). We realise that wildlife does have a role in this disease, but it’s wrong to put all the blame on wildlife and to use this as an excuse to not make hard decisions in industry, which is going to cost the industry money.”
The report says that the controversy surrounding the badger cull has had the “unfortunate consequence of … deflecting focus from what can be done by the individual farmer and livestock community”.
Among the measures that could be taken to control the spread of bTB are keeping neighbouring herds separate to prevent the tuberculosis bacteria passing from nose to nose contact, and preventing badgers from getting on to farms, particularly around feed bins.
The Political Animal Lobby (PAL) is part of a groundswell of resistance to the culling of badgers which forms a major part of the UK’s bTB strategy. An estimated 75 000 badgers have already been killed – at a cost of £50-million (USD65-million) – often in ways that cause them to suffer long, slow and painful deaths.
“The findings of the Godfray Review underscore what we and our partner organisations have said all along: the badger cull is cruel, senseless and costly,” said David Barritt, spokesman for PAL.
“We intend to keep applying pressure on the UK government until it finally does what any responsible government must surely do under the circumstances: abandon its policy of killing badgers.”
Pressure is mounting
In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to admit that its policy of killing badgers is not working.
Yesterday, in a strongly worded letter to chief vet, Dr Christine Middlemiss, a group of veterinarians accused Defra of “telling barefaced lies” about the effectiveness of its badger culling policy. They were highly critical of comments made by Farming Minister, George Eustice, in September.
Eustice said: “Today’s figures showing reductions in TB cases in Somerset and Gloucestershire are evidence that our strategy for dealing with this slow-moving, insidious disease is delivering results.” However, the report he quotes from, compiled by Defra’s own scientists at the Animal and Plant Health Agency, explicitly states, “these data alone cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in reducing bovine TB in cattle”.
One of the signatories of the letter, Dr Iain McGill, told BBC News that claims by Defra that the badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire were working were not supported by scientific evidence.
“According to Defra’s figures, they claim that they calculated that the incidence [of TB in cattle] has reduced. But their calculations are unclear and deliberately opaque. And, indeed, the current situation in the cull zone says there is an increased prevalence,” he said.
“So, either their figures were calculated on an extremely inaccurate basis and they’ve got it very badly wrong, or they have actually gerrymandered those figures to make it look as if the incidence is falling when the evidence clearly shows that the prevalence has gone up. Badger culling has not worked. They are issuing barefaced lies in this matter.”
The veterinarians’ letter marks the second time in a month that the veterinary and animal welfare community has spoken out strongly against the badger cull. On 21 October, a group of 15 eminent veterinarians and animal welfare campaigners wrote an open letter to Eustice, questioning the effectiveness of the badger cull.
The letter was published in part by The Guardian and in full by the respected scientific journal, VetRecord. Network for Animals chief executive officer, Gloria Davies, was one of the 15 signatories.
According to a Defra statement, the Godfray Review is “now with the Ministers who will consider its recommendations before publishing a response setting out the next steps for the bTB strategy.”