Kendall accuses Krebs in badger cull data row

NFU president Peter Kendall has hit back at claims by eminent biologist Lord Krebs that the union presented ‘misleading, dishonest’ data to back its case for a badger cull.

In an open letter to the scientist, Mr Kendall has accused Lord Kreb, himself, of making incorrect assertions not backed by evidence in comments in the House of Lords made in the aftermath of the decision to postpone the two badger cull pilots until next year.  

Lord Krebs, who recommended the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling trial (RBCT), told peers last week that ‘long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16 per cent after nine years’.

He added: “The number is not the 30 per cent that the NFU quoted; that is misleading - a dishonest filleting of the data.”

Lord Krebs went on to claim that the NFU ‘backed out, it is because it was due to pay those who were going to shoot the badgers on a per-badger basis’. The NFU had calculated its costs it on the basis of shooting 1,300 badgers but was ‘suddenly told’ the figure was 5,500 badgers, he said.

“The farmers thought it was worth doing-but not that much. They have done their own cost-benefit calculation and say that it is not worth the candle,” he said.

In his letter, Mr Kendall said follow-on data from the RBCT showed a 28.3 per cent ‘beneficial effect’ on cattle disease from culling badgers. While the net figure in the RBCT was reduced to 16 per cent as a result of the perturbation effect, longer term data showed that effect disappeared over five years.

Mr Kendall said Lord Krebs had failed to acknowledge that the pilot culls would be carried out over larger areas than the RBCT and, unlike the 10-year trial, ‘without porous boundaries’.

He insisted he did not think NFU claims of an effect of up to 30 ‘can be said to be a wild exaggeration’.

“I do not therefore accept your contention that this amounts to a dishonest filleting of the data,” Mr Kendall wrote.

Mr Kendall also robustly refuted Lord Krebs’ claims over the reasons behind the NFU’s decision to postpone the pilot culls.

“This was not, as you state, the result of farmers undertaking a crude cost-benefit analysis. I am extremely surprised that you should make such a statement without any evidence base whatsoever,” he told Lord Krebs.

He reiterated that the NFU made the decision based on the impracticalities of culling more badgers than initially expected so late in the year. “We were well aware that the available science indicates  important risks if a cull is not implemented correctly. In other words, it was a decision taken in light of the evidence,” he wrote.

He stressed that a 16 per cent reduction – in the RBCT, the prevention of 47 outbreaks out of 292 over nine years – is ‘an important demonstration of the efficacy of culling as part of a wider control and eradication strategy’.

He concluded: “Farmers on the ground remain committed to carrying out the cull effectively and meeting the full costs of this.”

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