Owen Paterson’s use of past scientific studies to make the case for continued badger culls “beggars belief” according to a scientist behind one of the reports.
Dr Chris Cheeseman, who worked extensively on the badger TB vaccination trials at Woodchester Park, also says that the cost of policing the recent trials alone would have been sufficient for a programme of vaccination.
In a letter to the a href="http://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/news/lettersextra/10912922.print/"> Stroud News and Journal, Dr Cheeseman writes: “Make no mistake, ministers are fully intending to resume the slaughter next year.
“Both Mr Paterson and Mr Eustice have drawn reference to earlier trials, where some treatment areas were estimated to have a low culling efficiency, as justification for carrying on with the current culls.
“As a co-author of the scientific paper they have referred to, I have to warn that this is an entirely unjustified, indeed dangerous, position to take.
“The recent shambolic pilot culls have departed so far from the scientifically controlled conditions of the previous trial, that using past results as a model to predict a beneficial outcome of the current culls frankly beggars belief.”
Not only does he say that the methods used in the trial culls do not stand up to scientific scrutiny, Dr Cheeseman refers to a “widely held view among experts” – including former colleague at Woodchester, Professor Rosie Woodroffe – that the “poorly conducted” trial culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire will in fact have helped spread the disease.
He continues: “The latest research has estimated that just 5.7 per cent of cattle TB outbreaks are directly due to badgers. The biggest problem is the spread of the disease among the cattle themselves.
“There are sustainable options, such as rigorously improved cattle testing, better farm biosecurity and the development of vaccines.
“Defra should focus on these and stop the misguided culling of badgers permanently.”
From January 1, biosecurity has been tightened, with farmers risking potentially unlimited fines for a failure to arrange TB testing within prescribed intervals. The changes, announced in the autumn, also laid the ground for culls of wild cattle.
Defra has since 1994 contributed £16 million to research into badger vaccination, among which studies one concluded that badger vaccination was 74 per cent effective, though offered no guarantee that the disease would not be passed on to badgers. The department says bovine TB costs the taxpayer £100 million each year.
Studies into vaccination under the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project continue at Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire, where Dr Cheeseman previously worked. Over the 100sq km test area, 834 badgers were vaccinated in 2013, down from 998 the year before.
Figures put together by animal welfare charity Care for the Wild have put the cost of the trial badger culls over 300sq km, including policing, at £7.3 million, more than £24,000 per square kilometre and more than £4,100 per badger killed.
Vaccination trials carried out in Pembrokeshire last year showed the cost of vaccination to be £662 per badger, though the NFU in Wales questioned the efficacy, saying that many of the 1,424 badgers vaccinated in the £943,000 programme would already have TB and would therefore continue as carriers.
Dr Cheeseman concludes his letter on the aspect of cost, writing: “Incidentally, the cost of policing the pilot culls alone could have paid for a badger vaccination programme”.
Calling for opponents of the cull to lobby MPs to stop further culls, he concludes: “If we don’t act now thousands more badgers will be killed next year for no good at all.”