Government commits to badger cull despite Spelman reservations

THE coalition Government has reiterated its commitment to a policy of ‘badger control’ in TB hotspots, despite reservations expressed by the new Defra Secretary earlier this week.

The new regime published its ‘programme for government’ on Thursday (May 20), including a list of policies for Defra, one of which states: “As part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis.”

However, in an interview with Farmers Guardian on Tuesday (May 18), new Defra Secretary, Caroline Spelman, indicated there was no guarantee the policy would be delivered, despite a pre-election Tory pledge to implement a badger cull.

Asked if the Tory pledge on a badger cull still held, Ms Spelman said only that she had ‘not closed down any options’.

Mrs Spelman was clear she wanted make up her own mind on the issue and was prepared to take her time in order to develop a ‘science-led policy’.

She said she wanted to monitor the effectiveness of the Welsh pilot badger cull, due to start in north Pembrokeshire this month, before deciding whether to pursue the policy in England.

“In all areas, I must take my time and be properly briefed,” she said, adding that the problem had got much worse since she was last involved in the agricultural industry more than a decade ago.

“The fact that the disease is now much more widely penetrated over a much wider geographical area makes the decision more difficult and more complex.

“I believe in evidence-led policy making and I think we should wait to see how the Welsh get on,” she said.

“I understand absolutely the industry concern but there aren’t easy answers.”

Farming Minister Jim Paice has spent much of the past year developing a badger cull strategy for England in partnership with the industry in preparation for a change of policy once the Tories assumed power.

Mr Paice and Nick Herbert, former Shadow Defra Secretary, frequently reiterated the Tories’ commitment to introducing a badger cull in the run up to the election.

In one interview, Mr Paice told Farmers Guardian “We would hopefully get on with it almost immediately. We cannot go on with the absurd situation where we are killing more and more cattle every year and getting nowhere.”

Readers' comments (14)

  • We aren't killing more and more cattle every year. The number of cattle being killed is dropping already.

    I hope Mr Paice said that a long time ago.

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  • bring on the badger cull. we cant go on paying high cattle prices due to BTB !!!

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  • Gavin

    Don't be so silly - what's you reasoning for the number of cattle slaughtered reducing?

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  • Let's get some facts on the table, rather than prejudiced thoughts.

    Badgers are the most contagious of all mammals known to contract bovine TB. They will expel upto 300,000 bacteria per ml of urine. The equivalent for most other mammals is only 30 per ml (I.e Badgers excrete upto ten thousand times the amount of bacteria). The Boars (male badgers) excrete urine almost continuously. Badgers can live with TB for a few years before they die and can raise several litters (also with TB) in that time. Many scientists now believe that this is a disease of badgers that has spread to other mammals (i.e. it is not an original bovine disease).
    The vast majority of scientists and vets agree that the main transmitter and spreader of b TB is the badger. In fact, the percentage of scientists supporting this position is much higher than that of those supporting the theory of man made global warming. Yet most of those in the "badgers are not at fault brigade" are big exponents of the man made global warming theory based on the scientific evidence. Some hypocrisy here!

    In many of the b TB hotspots, over 80% of badgers tested for TB are infected. In the parish of Broadway (Worcs), 94% of those tested in 1997 had b TB. It is totally false to say that the majority of badgers in TB areas are not infected. The exact opposite is the truth and has probably become considerably worse since regular testing of badgers stopped in 1998.

    The previous government was criminally negligent in dealing with this disease. Just culling on one side of the equation was a waste of time, money and lives. If I had my way, they would end up in jail.

    The badger vaccine programme was conceived as a sop to the EU commission. The EU Commission was going to fine the UK hundreds of millions of euros for "its abject failure in its policy to eradicate bovine TB". The vaccine trials have no means for testing if the badger already has TB (the vaccine only works on healthy badgers), they do not mark the badger once it is vaccinated (so the same badger could be vaccinated several times) and there is a fixed small number of badgers needing to be vaccinated per sett regardless of how many there are in the sett. This programme is a joke and is doomed to total failure.

    The previous culling trials (which led to the ridiculous conclusion of the "Independant Scientific Report") were sabotaged by both the government and animal rights activists. The government published details of all locations. The animal rights activists destroyed over 2000 of the 7000 traps and released badgers from traps and worse still, put badgers in their cars and released them outside the cull area. That explains why there was "the unexpected increase of infection in cattle outside the cull trial area". Most of the scientists contributing to this report now accept that they were misled.

    To blame cattle farmers for the movement of infected cattle after the 2001 FMD outbreak is daft. It was Defra that stopped regular TB testing in this period and it was Defra that issued the movement licences for these cattle. Why? Because the government wouldn't supply sufficient funding (during a period when they were pouring vast amounts of our money into all sorts of useless projects, wars et all).

    I have an interest in this issue. I breed Alpacas. Alpacas are not killed for meat, we shear them for their wool only and keep them until they die of old age, by which time they should be in their twenties. Where are the animal rights activists when my alpacas are shot because they have caught TB? (For your information, we have no cattle anywhere near us but, did have badgers). Don't any of you say we are adequately compensated. I have lost £40,000 of animals so far, have spent that amount again on qurantine fencing, vets fees etc, have no income from stud fees or selling and, if I'm lucky, receive £2,250 in compensation. I'm quite happy to have badgers but, healthy ones. This will only be achieved if we cull all badgers in TB areas and re-populate with vaccinated ones from TB free areas. The sad fact is that the actions of animal rights activists and the inaction of the last government mean that many more badgers will have to be killed as a result. Perhaps the badger trust would like to contribute for my losses and at least pay the funeral costs of those farmers who have been driven to suicide?

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  • Gavin. During 2009 there was a large time lag in the slaughter data published by Defra. This was admitted in writing to my breed society. We could see this from our own records that showed 3 times the number of animals compared to that published. Also, the published numbers only record those that are slaughtered on the orders of Animal Health. Many animals are "put down" by private vets because either the animal has passed a test but, is clearly ill with TB and/or AH cannot do it soon enough or, refuse to because it has passed the test (only 70% accurate in cattle and much less so in other species). The published data also excludes cattle that die from the disease prior to any testing. If you add these to the numbers for our breed society, the total was over 6 times the number published!

    The UK had to show a reduction in TB deaths in order to satisfy the EU that it was at least under control. It seems to me that the figures were massaged to show what the EU wanted to see.

    Jim Paice is using the real figures, which show a continuing rise in b TB deaths.

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  • Cattle owner -
    The official DEFRA TB stats:

    Could the pro-cull posters here support their claims similairly? e.g. Roger Mount claims figures such as 80% of badgers being infected. The badgers found dead survey in 2007 found no population with TB rated higher than 26%. The rate here in Pembs where the cull is to take place was only 15%.

    Likewise claims that the ISG report was 'sabotaged' are ridiculous - if the ISG were animal rights freaks why would they take part in a study that slaughtered 11000 badgers?

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  • Gavin said 'the number of cattle slaughtered with TB' is dropping already.

    This happened in 2005/06 and the CVO's report explained that with the introduction of Dutch Lelystadt tuberculin antigen, what we had was not a drop in disease incidence but a drop in early detection, with disease being found at a later stage.

    After a spell using Weybridge products (2007-2008), Dutch tuberculin antigen was introduced again in June 2009.
    The charts Defra produce are now showing a drop in slaughter numbers for cattle from late last year and early this year, but more cattle with confirmed TB (lesions) and more slaughterhouse cases.

    For 2010 Defra produced a new TB64 test interpretation chart which appeared, according to some vets using it, to ease up on the slaughter of severe interpretation inconclusives. They became a pass.

    On 'other species' TB death figures, Roger Mount is absolutely correct. The figures produced by Defra have a six month time lag, and only relate to culture samples submitted to VLA, not to actual deaths.
    But even these carefully pruned figures show a huge increase in cases of 'environmental' TB in domestic animals particularly cats and alpacas.
    The owners of these are completely unaware of the risk to their animals and themselves from badgers grossly infected with 'bovine' TB.

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  • Any chance of people backing up all these assertations with sources ?

    These figures and statements mean nothing unless you can demonstrate you're all not simply making them up.

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  • I fully agree matt. I should have posted the link to the DEFRA TB stats when I first made the claim. Sorry.

    Contrary to what Matthew claimed the link I gave shows the drop in TB cases and cattle slaughtered in the first months of 2010 compared to the equivalent period in 2009.

    Other stats can be found at:

    These show again a small drop from 2008 to 2009. Claims that these figures are doctored or otherwise inaccurate need supporting evidence. I'm not sure why some people are so keen to insist that TB is still gong up - it should be GOOD news that we're getting on top of it.

    Those interested might also want to listen to today's Farming Today:

    Yes, the farmers clearly want a cull, either because they think it will help BTB or to reduce badger numbers for its own sake, but the scientist quoted, Prof Cheeseman, is clear that it doesn't have scientific support.

    Many other scientists in the field have said similar things, but I have yet to see a scientist (who is an expert in this field, so not people like Sir David King who is a surface chemist) who supports the cull.

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  • The number of cattle slaughtered in the later months of 2009 and early 2010 is dropping.
    But the number of those slaughtered with lesions found at postmortem (as opposed to NVL) is rising. They are being found at a 'later stage of disease'.

    The CVO report of 2006 explains why the Dutch tuberculin antigen was thought to be responsible for a previous 'drop'..

    We used this product again from June 2009.

    I'm not saying the figures have been' doctored' in any way, but they need to be taken in the context of a change in method of detection.

    Also the work of Jenkins et al, (2008) and Donnelly published last week has shown a sustained drop in cattle TB within the ten proactive areas of the RBCT which has spilled over into the surrounding area, negating the early perturbation fears.

    In 2004, RBCT protocol was widened to allow 'dummy' traps to be laid near setts and traps laid on trails. Culling rates improved for the last two years, significantly. (EFRAcom Feb 2006 BTB 33).

    Likewise the 'other species' casualties are not accurately labelled for exactly what the are. They are not 'doctored' but neither are they an accurate reflection of the casualties.
    When the Alpaca TB Awareness roadshows began last year, vets heading them knew personally of many more TB cases in camelids than were shown on the Defra website. (221 v. 28 at the time) Some of this may be explained by the time lag in obtaining the cultures, which can take several weeks - to manually entering them on the site. (Figures showing now were collated Feb2010) But the main discrepancy came to light from personal correspondence obtained by a leading camelid vet that the Defra figures related to culture samples only.

    Chris Cheeseman is correct to say that perturbation was a 'fact' of the RBCT. It is equally true to say that this 'halo' effect was not seen at all when the whole social group was removed thoroughly and quickly. The RBCT 8 nights hit and run with cage traps, (up to 69 percent of which were interfered with or trashed Dec 1998 - Oct 2003) and this very occasionally - showed us exactly how not to cull TB infected badgers.
    (Ref: Hansard 8th Dec 2003. Col 218W [141971])

    Dr. Cheeseman's greatest gift to science was counting how much TB bacteria was present in badger urine - and how little of that is needed to be sniffed to provoke infection in cattle (and other mammals). This was Woodchester's work.
    (Ref; Hansard 6th Jan 2004 . col 248W [144445

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