Badger cull would not work – Krebs

THE scientist who instigated the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) has insisted that a badger cull would not be an effective way of controlling bovine TB (bTB).

Professor Lord John Krebs said the results was commenting on the publication of a Defra report suggesting that, based on the findings of the trial, culling badgers would reduce bTB incidence in cattle by approximately 12-16 per cent over a nine year period. 

“You cull intensively for at least four years, you will have a net benefit of reducing TB in cattle of 12 per cent to 16per cent. So you leave 85 per cent of the problem still there, having gone to a huge amount of trouble to kill a huge number of badgers. It doesn’t seem to be an effective way of controlling the disease.”

Lord Krebs commissioned a scientific review in the 1990s which found that badgers were a ‘reservoir’ of bTB and could transmit the disease to cattle. He recommended the RBCT in 1997 to establish whether a cull would be effective, or cost-effective.  

Speaking ahead of an expected announcement this week on a badger cull in England, Lord Krebs said the results showed culling did have an effect if it was done on a large scale, but that it was a relatively small one.

While the trials showed a substantial reduction in bTB incidence inside the culling areas – around 27 per cent from the start of the RBCT to February 2011 – it also showed a rise in disease levels in some cases in the 2km surrounding area in some cases, with an 8 per cent increase overall. This was attributed to badger perturbation.  

Lord Krebs said the Government should instead try to develop a vaccine in the long term, and in the short term to introduce better farm biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of infection from badgers and cattle-to-cattle spread.

Advocates of a badger cull insist, however, that the evidence shows that, if culling is performed in accordance with certain guidelines – over at least 70 per cent of areas of least with boundaries in place where possible – it can make a significant contribution to reducing bTB incidence.

Ongoing observations form the RBCT show that, over time, the benefits of proactive culling are sustained, while the negative effects disappear. Observations from one years after the last cull to February 2011 show a 4.4 per cent reduction in breakdowns surrounding the cull areas.

NFU president Peter Kendall said the recent Defra report, compiled by a group scientific experts, showed that ‘proactive badger culling has beneficial effects on reducing the incidence of TB in cattle’.

“Science has shown us that a policy including badger controls is fundamental if we are to reduce TB in cattle,” he said.  

The report concluded that culling conducted in line with the minimum criteria could be expected to lead to a reduction in confirmed new incidents.

But even though it came up with ‘central figures’ of an expected 12 to 16 per cent  reduction it cautioned that it was impossible to give a precise estimate of the benefits.

It also and stressed that if culling was not conducted in line with criteria, the benefits would be reduced and it could even have a detrimental effect.

Readers' comments (27)

  • Here we go again. . "Yawn"


    Memorandum submitted by P Caruana (BTB 33)

    House of Commons - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Written Evidence Page 1 of 3 14/02/2010

    “My name is Paul Caruana and I work for the a Defra Wildlife Unit (Polwhele) that is currently wrapping up the Krebs Trial. I have worked in the Unit for twelve years; five as a fields person, four as a Field Supervisor and the last three as a Field Manager (Higher Scientific Officer). I have been involved in the live testing regimes of the early 1990s, the Badger Removal Operations of the mid 1990s and the current Krebs Trial since its inception. I feel that my experience as an ex-RAF Logistics Officer and as an individual that has had a lot of ‘hands on’ experience could be valuable to any balanced and rational debate affecting the future handling of the current TB epidemic.”

    1. Badger removal operations worked well when the land being culled was made fully available, not just the area dictated to us by vets.

    2. Where badgers were totally removed from a farm, that farm, after it had its infected cattle culled, often stayed clear of TB for up to 10 years.

    3. We stayed on farms for up to three months to ensure that ALL badgers were caught; unlike the Krebs eight days per year trapping regime.

    4. You do not need large scale culling for it to be effective if the culling effort is robust from the start.

    5. Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activist, to being able to trap badgers anywhere in order to eliminate them. That is only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure.

    6. Limited trapping; eight days per year with Krebs; has little effect if carried out late in the year; the effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull.

    7. The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. The Wildlife Unit have many great ideas on how to reduce costs vastly should the State remain involved in it. Give the Unit the chance to see how innovative it can be when it comes to reducing operating costs. Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.

    8. The Public and the NFU are demanding that “professionals” remain involved to ensure adequate training is given to those with the task to do, and to ensure that animal welfare and humaneness remains a number one priority. Overseeing the task will give some comfort to those who fear that this might not be the way.

    9. Compulsory entry onto farms is a must when considering what Policy to adopt. Making farms who receive Government subsidies participate in one of its schemes must be made compulsory. Krebs has proven that wide scale non-cooperation does make it nigh on impossible to operate effectively.

    10. The Krebs Reactive strategy was prematurely ended in my opinion. The results used also showed us that, in areas we had never operated in (areas J2 and H1 which had a very limited cull) also displayed the same increase in TB outside of the areas. That has to have another logical reason for the increase, as it clearly was not badger culling related. This point has yet to be satisfactorily answered.

    11. The combined knowledge of the staff involved in all of the previous culling strategies has never been utilised or sought when putting together a Policy. Why can’t the common sense approach ever be used when facing problems such as TB. We feel that we have the answers, if only somebody would listen to us. Details of the possible ways of operating are being submitted to the TB Consultation committee.

    12. Be prepared to change a policy, to let it evolve, is a must. All strategies have seen staff restrained in what they would like to do, often flying in the face of common sense. Taking the risk; isn’t that what it often needs to make things work properly? We have been shackled for too many years by rules and red tape. Now is the time to be radical and make things change for the better.

    Bovine Tuberculosis, sometimes found in cattle is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. . Infection caused by this bacterium has now been identified in virtually all mammals, but most are only spill-over hosts. . The major vector and reservoir species in the UK has now been identified as the European badger, Meles-meles. . Its largely subterranean lifestyle is an ideal incubation environment for this very slow growing, insidious bacterium. . There is no realistic treatment for any infected animal, and unfortunately the only humane solution for any infected animal is euthanasia. . This bacterium has been in the environment for thousands of years and the current BCG vaccine for human tuberculosis Mycobacterium tuberculosis, first used in 1921, is now weakening and becoming increasingly ineffective. Unless an effective alternative for humans can soon be found the world is facing potentially great unknown difficulties with these bacterium. and unless an effective, appliable vaccine for any reservoir species in the wild can be found; which is at the present unlikely, the only remedy is control of numbers by culling.

    Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales Dr.Christianne Glossop, on the new data.

    And meanwhile they just keep repeating the same old bankrupt rhetoric which because of the difficulties of producing a new vaccine is now KNOWN to be plain dishonesty.

    "Lord Krebs said the Government should instead try to develop a vaccine in the long term, and in the short term to introduce better farm biosecurity."

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  • Here we go again - The Krebs Cycle

    His Nobel Prize winner for Biochemistry father will be turning in his grave!

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  • The VAWM (Vet Assoc for Wildlife Management) has previously said:-

    "Mr. Benn has been seduced by the siren voices of Lord Krebs and Professor John Bourne, who, being desperate to defend the hugely expensive and flawed Randomised Badger Culling Trials of the last 10 years, have persuaded the Minister that to bear down solely on the disease in cattle whilst ignoring the huge reservoir of infection in badgers is a realistic policy for control. Lord Krebs is quoted as saying killing 170,000 badgers is simply not an option (where does he get that figure from?) but does he suppose killing 30,000 cattle year on year is an acceptable alternative?"

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  • Is'nt the stats twisted, I interpretate that 16% equates to the percentage that will be free from TB if a cull took place. Not all of the UK herd suffers from TB so 85% still there is scaremongering stats into fooling the public with propaganda again. I cannot stand statistics being twisted to suit ones needs or job existance.

    What I do support is a proffesional balance, yes some badgers will need to be culled to manage the disease as are farmers are managing their herds with the TB checks and their boundaries.

    The farmers that put the industry into disrepute by switching tags should suffer larger punishments.

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  • hes quite right(krebs). A randomised cull is no good at all. So shoot the bloody lot of them. (badgers, - not cows)

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  • Did anyone expect Krebs to admit he got it wrong?

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  • Prof John Krebs?

    Interesting man. For a while he was the boss of the Foods Standards Agency. And he was pro-GM crops and questioning of the nutritional benefits of organic produce.

    So not a sandal-wearing greenie?

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  • December 10th 2007 – EFRA Committee

    Readers will recall Jeff Rooker (Labour) MP – MAFF / DEFRA minister – now Lord Rooker

    He said:-

    * Defra has to formulate a comprehensive strategy. "The issue is bTb. We have a reservoir in the wildlife and disease in a food producing animal. And it is growing".

    * "We are in real trouble. AHOs and VLA tell me that the disease is virtually impossible to eradicate in cattle while there is a reservoir in wildlife".

    * "In the hot spot areas, AHOs tell me that 70 percent of the cattle breakdowns are badger related. They are on the front line".

    * Cattle movements geographically are important, but "both VLA and AHOs tell me that the molecular structure [of the bacteria] is unique to areas. If the issue was cattle moving Tb around, then this molecular spread would be obvious".

    * Scientists not arguing about the science of culling [ badgers], but how to do it.

    * "The present situation is unsustainable. Whatever policy government come up with, they will not pay for it. This is the end of the line for taxpayer's money".

    * "Culling as done by the RBCT does not work. The implication is you don't do it that way".

    * The rest of mainland Europe is fine with test and slaughter - they don't have a wildlife reservoir of disease.

    * "Government cannot reasonably withold licenses from applicants under section 10 (9) of the Badger Protection Act"; the Act was to protect the badger before it became known that the animal was a reservoir for bTb. Moratorium 'may have been illegal', but was never challenged.

    * Zoning and cattle cordon sanitaires would destroy the industry. "The cost to the farming industry [of bTb] is horrendous, both financially and emotionally. It is very frustrating for farmers and the industry".

    * The spread of bTb in "Midlands and SW hotspots has grown, but not as a result of trade".

    * "bTb is the most serious disease that Defra face in terms of costs and resources. This cannot carry on".

    Come on Lord Rooker - we need your input

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  • I forgot to say that Jeff Rooker has visited fellow cattle farmers in my region (North Staffs) - he is a decent man, a good man, a truthful man - an honourable man and despite the political pressures of being a Labour Party Farming Minister - he recognised the truth.

    Other Members of the Labour Party do not have the strength of character - despite their education and training - to do the same.

    Shame on them !

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  • "Mr. Benn has been seduced by the siren voices of Lord Krebs and Professor John Bourne, who, being desperate to defend the hugely expensive and flawed Randomised Badger Culling Trials of the last 10 years, have persuaded the Minister that to bear down solely on the disease in cattle whilst ignoring the huge reservoir of infection in badgers is a realistic policy for control. Lord Krebs is quoted as saying killing 170,000 badgers is simply not an option (where does he get that figure from?) but does he suppose killing 30,000 cattle year on year is an acceptable alternative?"

    Professor John Bourne obviously didn't have his appetite for destroying farming quelled during the BSE crisis.

    Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence.

    Examination of Witnesses 10 DECEMBER 2003.

    Q1 David Taylor:

    "Yes. As Members of the Committee we have had an extensive amount of evidence submitted to us, as you might imagine, and there has been lots of press coverage. To me it seemed to be distilled by the front page of the Farmers Guardian on November 21. This is a question to Professor Bourne. I will quote this short paragraph, if I may, Chairman. "In an interview with Farmers Guardian Professor John Bourne suggested ministers would one day have to make the difficult choice between a large scale badger cull or allowing TB to become endemic in Britain". Is that an accurate reflection of the interview and has that one day got a lot closer? What is your reaction to that?"

    Professor Bourne:

    "I do not think that is an accurate description of the interview, no. I had no doubt made the comments that we were trialling a potential policy option that did not involve the elimination of badgers from the countryside. We had recognised at that stage that the policy option of local removal of badgers was not working in the way we would have hoped it might have done, and it could be regarded no longer as a future policy option but the proactive cull was still being pursued and whether that ultimately would be a policy option, I did not know. It was dependent on the results of the proactive cull and it would depend subsequently on how ministers took this into policy which is not a business of the ISG so I am certain I did not make that comment to Farmers Guardian."

    Q2 David Taylor:

    "One brief additional one, Chairman, before passing back. Okay you may dispute whether or not those particular words were used and I have quoted them verbatim. Do you believe it possible or probable that ministers will have that difficult choice to make relatively soon between the large scale cull and allowing TB to become endemic?"

    Professor Bourne:

    "Will they be able to make that choice soon, it depends on the outcome of the proactive component of the trial. The whole basis of the trial was based on 50 triplet years but with the possibility that if we had substantive results before then ministers would be informed. That was the situation with the reactive cull. We do not have substantive results yet with the proactive cull but the expectancy that we would do so by the end of 2005 and into 2006 when 50 triplet years would have been completed."

    Would you even trust either of these men to get the cows in without losing them.

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