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 150sq.km 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.