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Minister insists that his crosshairs are still fixed firmly on badgers

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 26, 2013

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Huge numbers of badgers are set to be exterminated in a national cull next year, the Government indicated yesterday.

Tens of thousands of animals face being shot as part of an all-out drive to tackle the country's worst-ever bovine TB epidemic, which last year saw more than 26,000 cattle destroyed.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson gave the strongest indication yet yesterday that the two pilot trials planned for West Somerset and Gloucestershire would only be a prelude to a full-scale, anti-badger offensive.

He told West Country farmers in Tiverton, Devon, that he had received more death threats over the badger culling issues than he had while Northern Ireland Minister.

But he left his audience in no doubt of the Coalition's intention to grasp an issue which was allowed to fester during 13 years of Labour rule.

The pilot culls were to have taken place last autumn but were suspended at the eleventh hour after surveys revealed the presence of twice as many animals as previously thought – proof say farmers, that the badger population is now out of control. But, said Mr Paterson, they are on course to start in June.

"We simply have to prove this method of culling works and we simply have to roll it out across the country the following year," he said.

Mr Paterson rejected a suggestion the badger problem could be resolved by repealing the Badger Act, which afford the animals legal protection and which farmers say has allowed their numbers to grow to an uncontrollable two million plus.

"Quite honestly we have enough problems getting our current proposals through," he said.

"But if we can prove this cull works we shall have a system that is manageable."

Police forces across the country are already voicing misgivings about their ability to provide enough manpower to protect those involved in the culling and to prevent disruption by pro-badger groups.

But, said Mr Paterson: "It is not sensible to let any population become over-preponderant and these animals do die a horrible death. We manage virtually every other species and I do not think any particular one should be exempt."

Mr Paterson said Labour had been guilty of "grotesque incompetence" in allowing TB to rampage out of control without the least effort being made to curb the spread of the disease.

He said he sympathised with livestock and dairy farmers who were being put under even more onerous anti-TB restrictions, many of which emanated from Europe, leaving the Government with no option but to impose them.

"But in any other part of the world where you have a significant cattle industry and you have a problem with TB in wildlife you bear down on both," he said. "It would be lovely to press a button marked "vaccination". But in fact we do not have a vaccination we could use. We have one that is 50 to 60 per cent effective."

Defra has now agreed to a 10-year research programme to develop a vaccine which will be fully tested and effective, and Mr Paterson rejected claims from the pro-badger lobby that the Government was ignoring science in going ahead with culling.

"We are being realistic. If we don't, we are heading for a bill of £1 billion."

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8 comments

  • stormkettle  |  February 02 2013, 6:20PM

    Even hotspot areas contain badgers that are both disease-free and immune from Tb.

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  • Jake_Blake  |  February 01 2013, 11:48AM

    It's important to note that badger culling will only be used in the hotspot areas. These are the areas in which TB is endemic in the badger species. There are people against farming that will use anything to try and blacken the image of farming. However, leaving such a dangerous disease spread as it does in the badger species does more damage to the farming community in terms of welfare and image.

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  • stormkettle  |  February 01 2013, 10:59AM

    The very idea of Culling disease-free and immune badgers is hugely damaging to the image of beef and dairy farming .

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  • Jake_Blake  |  January 30 2013, 5:37PM

    If only science ended in 2007 hey? But, it didn't and nor did the expected to be short term reductions in TB; http://tinyurl.com/9lv54zd Hence why the scientists all agreed that badger culling as conducted in line with the RBCT could reduce TB by 16% over 9 years (note, this is an average). This means that badger culling does make a meaningful contribution in reduction of TB in cattle. http://tinyurl.com/3c9ojac However, this cull does diverge from the RBCT in two respects; [] Free-shooting will be going on today as it does most days in the countryside. I fail to see why people suddenly get scared because sights are aimed at badgers? There is no rational reason for scaremongering over their usage. Now, as noted in the pdf, divergence from the RBCT trial can change the impact of the outcome for better or worse. Therefore options such as free shooting will have to be trialled before they could possibly be rolled out across the eligible hotspot areas. The policy has been developed on the scientific advice. This is scientific process in action. [] Area of culling will be larger in these trials. As such we should expect to see a larger reduction of around 19% over 9 years. The timetable for cattle vaccination deployment is very disappointing and places deployment not until the 2020's. The reason for this is part logical (scientific process is followed for a reason – field tests will take at least 3 years) and of course part non-logical (politics). Even if it was possible to deploy the vaccine in cattle it would still leave a large proportion of cattle with no protection at all (just like in badgers). Therefore we would still need to address TB in the badger species. Badger vaccination is available, and developments have been interesting to misleading (80% is of those vaccinated, so that's still 2/3rds that it will do nothing on). It's important to note this also needs to be administered annually (as it would in cattle). The problem is, we still have the same questions hanging over it that we had several years ago. Can we use it to build herd immunity within the badger species? i.e. we still don't know if it will work. Hopefully the research referenced is still commencing else we'll have to wait another 4 years on the IAA. However, the most likely method to get vaccination to build herd immunity as recommended by the BVA and supported by Defra research is through deploying both. Badger's are a legally protected species. However, within this protection there are allowances in the case of disease to allow licences to be granted to cull. The law and science has been followed on this one, the cull is a perfectly reasonable reaction to combat disease. The endemic nature of TB in badgers is an extremely serious problem and playing games to try and scapegoat farmers isn't going to help us get anywhere in addressing this.

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  • stormkettle  |  January 29 2013, 9:30PM

    Trial culls are target practice for the snipers. Badgers are a legally protected species.

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  • poppyfield  |  January 28 2013, 12:43PM

    I think we already know what's motivating them. They're trying to clear greenfield sites of badgers and their setts so that they can go ahead and build there.

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  • E_Badger  |  January 27 2013, 3:56PM

    Some of the recent "science bit" against culling: (a) the Krebs trials which proved that culling would not resolve the problem of bTB in cattle... "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. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better." [tbfreeengland.uk.com] source: http://tinyurl.com/bjywnrq (b) a cattle vaccine that is known to be up to 70% effective (subject to licenced by the EU)... "DEFRA is working with the EU to change the current legislation to allow a BCG cattle vaccine and the DIVA test to be used in combination to tackle bovine TB. The aim is to allow both to be used legally in the UK - but the timetable remains uncertain." "BCG vaccine does not give 100% protection, which is true of any vaccine. Estimates range from 50-70% DIVA test is currently required to use alongside the BCG vaccine." [Farmers Weekly, October 2012] source: http://tinyurl.com/bxrozl6 (c) recent development of a DIVA test which can determine the difference between an infected cow and a vaccinated one ... "In the current study, we have reassessed the portential of such antigens as DIVA skin-test reagents in cattle. A cocktail of M.bovis/M.tuberculocis recombinant protein antigens ESAT-6, CFP-10 and MPB83 elecited DTH skin-test responses in 78% of naturally infected tuberculin-positive cattle. Importantly, this cocktail induced no skin-responses in BCG vaccinated cattle despite them being sensitised for strong tuberculin responses." [American society for Microbiology, June 2010] source: http://tinyurl.com/bg9y6bl and (d) a badger vaccine that has been proven to be 80% effective even if only one third of the badger population is treated... "Here we present new evidence from the same study identifying both a direct beneficial effect of vaccination in individual badgers and an indirect protective effect in unvaccinated cubs. We show that intramuscular injection of BCG reduced by 76% (Odds ratio = 0.24, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.11–0.52) the risk of free-living vaccinated individuals testing positive to a diagnostic test combination to detect progressive infection." [PLOS ONE, 2012] source: http://tinyurl.com/bbwzmjq

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  • Clued-Up  |  January 27 2013, 10:35AM

    Re: "We simply have to prove this method of culling works and we simply have to roll it out across the country the following year," [Paterson] said. According to Paterson, he simply has to ignore all the evidence provided by scientists, animal health experts, economists, parliament and the public that killing badgers won't reduce cattle bTB (and may spread it); that the cost to taxpayers will be exorbitant with no benefit; that free-shooting will cause huge suffering to the badger population and risks causing injury to pets and human beings; and that the project is politically unsustainable. Such extreme pig-headedness and contempt for the voters is breath-taking. I think we need to ask ourselves what's really motivating this tiny clique of ministers (Paterson and Heath) and NFU leaders to press ahead with a scheme that's universally condemned by anyone and everyone with specialised knowledge of cattle BTB?

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