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Act now to end the suffering for badgers

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 21, 2013

Comments (15) It is time the impact of TB in an expanding badger population was recognised says Cornish farmer and regional TB representative for the National Beef Association Bill Harper.

Just because these sick animals are publicity shy doesn't mean they are not suffering. Yet for badgers, it seems, their suffering goes largely unnoticed.

Much publicity has been given lately to targeting badger setts only harbouring infected badgers. Commonsense indicates this is the right way forward. Yet practically it is impossible. There is no current feasible or scientific means to do so and it is against EU legislation to both interfere with a badger sett and leave dead badgers underground.

There are issues over how to tell whether a sett harbours infected badgers – it is impossible to know the level of infection without testing faeces and urine samples. Disturbing a sett only disorganises its population, resulting in infected badgers moving away into uninfected areas and unwittingly spreading the disease.

There will be no improvement until bovine TB is eradicated from within the wildlife population. England is the only country with this disease that chooses not to do so.

Only when all sides of the debate understand this and work towards that objective will there be a change in the status quo. In the meantime, more cattle will be slaughtered needlessly while an increasing badger population – which is protected and hence an ideal environment for spreading a highly infectious disease – will suffer even more.

Unlike other species, badgers suffer for many years while infected with TB. When very sick, their kidneys are heavily infected with TB bacilli. As a result, vast quantities of infected urine lies on grazed pasture and other cattle feeds.

When the disease is at this level the only recourse is to drop the population to a level where there is no competition for territory.

Boundary disputes are often resolved through heavy fighting – another key precursor to disease transmission, as infected badgers pass on the TB bacteria through bite wounds.

Research has shown not all infected badgers have lesions indicative of TB. This means they carry the disease, but lesions have yet to form. In fact, over a ten-year period 80 per cent of infected badgers in Gloucestershire and Cornwall failed to show lesions of disease. So badgers acquire dormant infection reactivated in later life.

An overcrowded population and damp environment are two prime stressful situations to trigger off the disease.

It is therefore obvious these are the animals which must be stopped in their tracks if this disease is to be controlled.

Vaccinating the badger population is not the answer. The vaccine does not cure infected badgers and hence will do little to control the disease. Remember, these are wild animals and very difficult to catch.

Many badgers go unvaccinated so those already infected will still spread the disease to unvaccinated stock. To date, this procedure has cost an unfeasible £660 per badger in Wales (the UK population is estimated officially to stand at 900,000).

Perhaps the public is unaware farmers have very stringent regulations to comply with to minimise cattle-to-cattle transmissions. Statistics show a majority of cattle TB reactors are found at the end of the grazing season before cattle are housed for winter.

If cattle-to-cattle transmission was the main vector for this disease's spread, farmers would notice a significant increase in reactors when testing before turnout in spring.

The EU has made it abundantly clear there will be no vaccination programme before 2023. What is so frustrating is that there is a solution to this problem. The pilot badger cull areas have been carefully chosen because they are the most highly infected in the country. Let Defra carry out its cull here unhindered. Yes, a population of uninfected badgers will be sacrificed. But this fact will in no way equate to the 29,000 cattle condemned each year because they have tested positive for the disease.

In these hotspot areas, a quarter of farms are under restriction because their cattle have failed TB tests.

The two trial areas have excellent natural boundaries due to the sea, large rivers and motorways and so will ensure the population remains contained. Removing infected stock will significantly contribute to stopping this disease spreading out of the West Country at a rate of ten miles a year.

A second method of controlling this disease must be implemented to stop it spreading in other areas where the badger population is not so heavily infected and sett testing and infected-sett removal are realistic solutions.

Using the same measures as you would to control a fire this fight can be won. You must control the seat of the fire, as well as take measures to prevent it spreading. Only then will you put it out and secure the future of both our cattle and our wildlife.

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  • AtrixMan  |  March 24 2013, 7:28AM

    So it's all cattle to cattle transmission and badger vaccination will solve the problem. !GET REAL!!

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  • Clued-Up  |  March 23 2013, 10:29AM

    @ AtrixMan It's the SCIENTISTS AND RESEARCHERS (not me) who say it's cattle to cattle transmission which is the principal cause of cattle bTB. The latest University of Durham study (only one of a whole line of research studies all pointing the same way) says the way to stop cattle bTB is through more rigorous, better enforced cattle management controls and that if badgers play any part in bTB it's an unimportant one. The EU has said there's wider geographical movement of cattle in the UK than there is elsewhere within the EU - not sensible if you want to control the cattle to cattle transmission of bTB. I understand the laxity over cattle movement is because of the way the UK framed its regulations before the most recent cattle controls were introduced (ie farmers were allowed to move cattle within their holdings, areas which might be at some distance from each other). I also understand the rest of the EU follow the approach of slaughtering the whole herd when a bTB reactor is found - with a diagnostic tool such as the one used now which gives the wrong diagnosis 20% time that's a sensible way to root out cattle bTB. The current UK and EU systems waste the lives of very many healthy cattle. I can't understand why UK farmers are so slow to press DEFRA for determined action on introducing the cattle bTB vaccine into the UK. Better cattle management will stop cattle bTB in its tracks; scapegoating badgers is a diversion from the main issue.

  • newactivist  |  March 23 2013, 8:30AM

    'It's only since they were awarded the "God-like" protection that the disease in the species has become such a massive problem.' 89% of badgers are disease free, so hardly a massive problem for the species. As always the major problem any species faces is Man. This 'nasty' government is hellbent on destroying our wildlife and our countryside. This is only the start of the war. They are not only clueless, they are positively dangerous, far more than any other Government in our lifetime. Even Thatcher only waged war on our industries, not our environment.

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  • AtrixMan  |  March 23 2013, 7:02AM

    Clued-up, You claim that, it's very largely CATTLE that transmit bTB to CATTLE. And that Badgers are almost irrelevant as regards the spread of cattle bTB, ignores evidence like the work done at Thornbury in the late 70's, which proved that when you remove the wildlife vector of disease, cattle in that same area can remain clear of TB for many, many years.

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  • Clued-Up  |  March 22 2013, 2:23PM

    @ AtrixMan "There is no proof that vaccinating badgers reduces TB in cattle!" That's exactly what you'd expect - it's very largely CATTLE that transmit bTB to CATTLE. Badgers are almost irrelevant as regards the spread of cattle bTB - around 85% them are completely free of TB. Post-mortems of badgers killed on the roads showed only 1 in 100 badgers were actually at the infectious stage of the disease. Killing badgers on the grounds there's a 1% chance a particular local badger MAY be infectious (and a 99% chance it won't be) is daft and wicked. The right way to stop cattle bTB in its tracks is to press ahead with the UK trials of the bTB vaccine proven to work in 3 other countries. Please farmers, stop being side-tracked by the badger issue and push the NFU and DEFRA into more effective action on introducing the cattle bTB vaccine into the UK. Vaccinating badgers is proven to be highly successful in reducing the likelihood that badgers will ever get TB (through "herd immunity" it even reduces by around 52% the risks that unvaccinated cubs will get TB ). Those badgers will be protected through vaccination from being infected by bTB cattle - which is nice for them but no use to the famers.

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  • fischadler  |  March 22 2013, 1:37PM

    Badger cull petition now nearing 180,000 with 269 signing in the last hour. Opposition to this unscientific and inhumane cull wll not go away, indeed it is strengthening with every day that passes. The coalition is becoming more and more isolated in the mistaken belief that a badger cull will make any difference to Bovine TB.

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  • vulcan  |  March 22 2013, 8:46AM

    @Jake_Blake, As I said, Badgers have been here long enough to get along just fine without us ( unlike the genetically modified cattle which cant survive without us ) so we have no need to be 'cruel to be kind'. No one knows how many Badgers are out there which means no one knows how many to kill to reach 70%. Badgers may well have survived persecution by humans in the past but they have not faced a campaign of armed slaughter before. T.B is not a massive problem to badgers, they have been getting along with it just fine, its only due to modern farming that you think of it as a problem.

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  • AtrixMan  |  March 22 2013, 6:32AM

    There is no proof that vaccinating badgers reduces TB in cattle!

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  • E_Badger  |  March 22 2013, 3:20AM

    @Atrixman ... "the countryman way" - that'll be gassing or drowning then. No matter how you tart up the phrasology no one is fooled by the BWA. @Jake_Blake ... what a fine mash-up of pro-paganda you have written, you do know that I can also produce a list of named scientists and veteranarians of equal if not greater length against the cull, backed by a PLOS ONE study and others on badger movements, within the last five years that demonstrate culling as well as being unpopular to the majority public who care to express opinion, nearly 170,000 by petition and the majority two-thirds in the Commons vote against a cull, will not solve the problem of bTB; but of course you do. As you are also aware that the Tories are to go after the deer next and want to overturn the fox hunt ban. This is far from a limited cull and is lilely to be fast tracked UK wide by this slash and burn government with a policy pushed by an Environment Minister that that is pro-badger cull, pro-fox hunt, pro-fracking, pro-GMO, anti-alternative energy and pro-HS2, which itself is going to trash 15 ancient woodlands and at least one SSSI, no doubt to re-treat to his second home in Drome,France when the excretion hits the fan and both farming reputation and practice go down the hole at the same time costing many thousands more tax-payers money to fund a badger cull and its consequences, rather than do a vaccination trial. The gun has had its day, there is now another way, time to give vaccination its "five year trial". Vaccinate don't exterminate.

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  • AtrixMan  |  March 21 2013, 10:46PM

    The NFU and NBA are hell bent on killing healthy badgers, while the badger groups are intent on doing nothing and blaming cattle movements. Both seem to quite enjoy ****ging off the other side. There is a middle way. We don't need the wholesale slaughter of mostly healthy badgers to rid the badger population of bovine TB. The "countryman way" as promoted by the badger welfare association, can target mostly TB infected badgers and leave healthy badger setts undisturbed. It is legal under the badger protection act, to kill a badger which appears to be so seriously injured or in such a condition that to kill it would be an act of mercy;

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