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Bovine tuberculosis: don't abandon the farmers

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 12, 2013

Comments (7)

It took political courage to launch the pilot cull of badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire in an effort to reduce the incidence of bovine TB in domestic cattle.

The Conservatives pledged before the last election to take such action and, having come to power – with coalition partners – they kept their promise.

It is worth recalling, even with both culls missing their Government-imposed targets and the policy now clearly in disarray, that the previous Labour administration showed no such courage on this pressing rural issue.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and his recently installed Farming Minister, George Eustice, might like to hold onto that fact as they contemplate the fall-out from yesterday's well attended and often passionate debate on the badger cull in Westminster Hall.

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It is undeniable, however, that even Tory MPs, traditional supporters of farming and the countryside and allies of livestock farmers who have been fighting for a proper policy to tackle bovine TB in the wild, are beginning to lose faith with the cull.

As Mr Paterson works out how to proceed, with a likely extension of the cull in new areas expected in February or March, he will have to reflect on that and, surely, conclude that there needs to be a radical change of direction.

The shortcomings of what has gone on so far were set out earlier this week by Lord Krebs. He instigated the Randomised Badger Culling Trials in the 1990s and now believes tougher measures to keep badgers and cattle apart would be more effective than culling to bring bovine TB under control. Yet tough measures are already in place and, with the announcement recently from Defra of further tightening of cattle movements, they are about to get tougher.

Where Lord Krebs was right, however, was in highlighting how little Defra appeared to know, before the shooting started, about badger numbers in each pilot zone.

If that is the case then while the cull has been an undoubted PR disaster it may not have been the catastrophe for controlling the disease some have almost gleefully suggested. Analysing the data, considering new ways of controlling badgers, to include more cage trapping, vaccination and maybe even gassing, where appropriate, could make the difference.

What must not happen, despite the wobble shown by some MPs, is a full scale retreat on tackling this disease, both on the farm and in the wild.

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7 comments

  • mmjames  |  December 17 2013, 1:57PM

    http://tinyurl.com/9arg3jl December 12th 2013 ~ Yesterday's debate in Westminster Hall on badger culling Many MPs had strong opinions. Not all MPs had the first idea what they were talking about. Chris Williamson at one point implied that the British Veterinary Association were a group of "pseudo-scientists". (The BVA President said in the Telegraph that while, of course, effective vaccines would be the best answer, the injectable badger vaccine does not work on already-infected badgers while vaccine to put in baited food for badgers does not yet exist, nor is there any existing bovine vaccine. This leaves Britain no choice but to cull says the BVA. Last month, they agreed with the Chief Veterinary Officer's advice "that extensions in order to remove a greater number of badgers and get closer to achieving the 70% rate of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCTs) are justified to improve the bovine TB disease situation and mitigate the potential impact of badger perturbation.") Michael Fabricant pointed out to those present that "There is also the misery of other sentient beings - cattle. Some 35,000 cattle are destroyed every year, more than half of which are dairy cows. I do not know whether the solution should be culling badgers, but we do need a solution." The debate can be read in Hansard. (It begins at the bottom of the page) Comment from This is Somerset "....while the cull has been an undoubted PR disaster it may not have been the catastrophe for controlling the disease some have almost gleefully suggested. Analysing the data, considering new ways of controlling badgers, to include more cage trapping, vaccination and maybe even gassing, where appropriate, could make the difference. What must not happen, despite the wobble shown by some MPs, is a full scale retreat on tackling this disease, both on the farm and in the wild." One of the best contributions was from Sir John Randall who has been a keen wildlife conservationist all his life: ".. the debate is not about whether badgers are great creatures; it is about a terrible disease that is causing misery for many farmers and that is affecting their livelihoods and communities."

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  • Jake_Blake  |  December 14 2013, 2:58PM

    The cull was sett up for several reasons; Primarily: [] To reduce TB - If the reported population reductions are accurate (or better) then following on from what the RBCT achieved (or didn't) reductions in TB will almost certainly be achieved. Secondarily; [] To see if farmers and landowners can join together in an organised way and run a successful culling operation - Once again, if the details released are true then this has also been achieved. [] To test free shooting - There were two purposes of this; [i] To test humanness - On this point we will have to wait [ii] How it can be used - It seems unlikely that free shooting can be used in isolation for culling, but this will need to be assessed as if disruption had not taken place. However if free-shooting passes [i] there is no reason it can't be used to supplement cage trapping to increase cull rates. This cull has significantly reduced the badger population, under much more protest than that seen in the RBCT. So the question remains how much more could be achieved if curfews were placed on the public footpaths. There are many ways to protest and certainly many things that I disagree with in this world. However, my right to free speech and protest does not give me the right to hinder the rights of others. If people want to protest against the badger cull that is fine. But what is not fine is to allow them to stage the protest so that it hinders the very activity that they are protesting against. There are plenty of places that they can stage a protest, the cull zone should not be one.

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  • lovelylizzy  |  December 13 2013, 6:08PM

    Jake_Blake "What has also failed is the brain dead approach to allow protesters to use their right to protest to hinder the rights of others." Surely you cannot be serious? So if there is anything ever in your life that you feel so strongly about, that you think you have to go out and protest about, you won't do it, will you??

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  • Clued-Up  |  December 13 2013, 10:30AM

    What launched the badgers culls was arrogance and stupidity of a very high order, not political courage. Its backers are now paying the price for their foolishness ... sadly, so are the badgers and tax-payers.

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  • dodge101  |  December 12 2013, 10:05PM

    Jake Blake are you for real? The badger cull has been a monumental failure in every way and no amount of lying or twisting facts will cover it up.

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  • Jake_Blake  |  December 12 2013, 9:53PM

    Both badger culls culled more badgers per km² than any year by the RBCT. Whatever way it's spun it's certainly on target to achieve TB reductions. I really find it hard to describe the culls themselves as a failure. What has failed is the paper chase set up by civil servants at Defra and the NE. Well that's not new, and heads should be rolling at both. What has also failed is the brain dead approach to allow protesters to use their right to protest to hinder the rights of others. If they truly have learnt anything then they need to place a curfew on the public footpaths. What needs to be looked as is the reality, and that is allowing farmers and landowners to deploy a badger cull was a success. It can achieve the reductions requires and therefore there is no decision to be made on roll out, it should be going ahead. Whether free-shooting is deployed alongside that is the question to be answered, and if it's deemed humane then there is no reason to stop it. However, as pointed out by around 30 scientists, of various different allegiances. This badger cull cannot be deployed in all areas where TB is endemic in badgers. The onus is now on the government to strengthen the current culling policy and bring forward new options for areas that are not eligible to cull badgers.

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  • twigcat  |  December 12 2013, 8:12PM

    No, it was definitely a catastrophe. I agree there must not be a ''full scale retreat on tackling this disease.'' Of course not. Who would suggest that? I also agree that ''there needs to be a radical change of direction'' but that does not include culling by shooting or (god forbid) gassing, snaring or any other hideous killing method yet to be mooted. That would be an even bigger catastrophe. The direction clearly points to a combination of improved bio security measures (which is already working though Defra are being suspiciously quiet about this fact) and vaccination.

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