Posts Tagged cattle
This morning the government is due to announce its decision on the badger cull intended to reduce bovine tuberculosis (bTB). However, new research which has only just been published, shows that culling could not only be a waste of time, money and life, but it could actually make the problem worse.
After I posted links to related stories on Twitter yesterday and saw the response it garnered, I decided to stop the presses at the Review and write this post instead of the one I had originally planned, which was a look at the macrobiotic behaviour of the flu virus cell when exposed to various forms of Nestle chocolate and how that may be employed against the expansion of Tesco.
So, joking aside (yes that was a joke), the issue of badgers causing bTB in herds of cattle is actually very serious, and has been around for many years now. Over the last 10 years, it’s estimated to have cost the British taxpayer around £500 million and caused no end of heartache to the affected farmers.
The problem is that roaming wild badgers can spread bTB to herds of cattle, and farmers organisations claim that killing the badgers will vastly reduce the spread and impact of the disease. Consequently, the UK government is having to make a decision as to whether to let farmers in western England embark on a shooting spree to cull the said badgers.
In 2009, 1 in 10 herds were infected with bTB, resulting in the premature slaughter of 35,000 animals. According to Defra’s chief scientific advisor, shooting badgers that may infect a herd is the most cost effective way of stopping the spread of the disease.
Recent research, however, which has been undertaken over the last 10 years, has found that culling around 11,000 badgers only reduced the number of bTB cases by 12-16%. It also found that badgers who survive the cull are likely to wander over further areas as their social structure is upset. This then has the effect of spreading the disease over an even greater area, a consequence known as the ‘perturbation’ effect.
These new findings are based on the analysis of data from a study by the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra): The 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trial. The man behind the trials, Lord Krebs, said “You leave 85% 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”.
While the farming community is understandably desperate to find a solution to this problem, they really should take note of this new research and – at worst – delay the forth-coming cull. If the government does grant them permission, they will be given practically free reign to exterminate as many badgers as they can find.
The National Trust is running an experiment over the next four years to see how effective trapping and vaccinating badgers may prove to be. There is also hope an oral vaccine will soon be developed, thus reducing the cost and effort considerably. Unfortunately this method can cost up to 10 times as much as shooting, which also raises the question of the farmers’ motivation for the badger cull; if it’s solely a cost issue, then that’s really sad. Hopefully the government will hold fire (pardon the pun) and see that a solution is on the way and mass extermination of the (often perfectly healthy) badgers is a draconian answer and will prove very unpopular.
The badger trust claims that cattle to cattle transmission is still the main cause of disease spreading to new areas and that the phenomenon of badgers spreading the disease is still not fully understood. They also say, “foxes, squirrels, rats and deer are among wildlife known to suffer from TB. But in 2008 Defra said two research projects had concluded that except for two species of deer the likelihood of other mammals (excluding badgers) being a significant source of infection to cattle was extremely low. It’s worth noting that all six species of deer in the UK suffer from TB”. It’s also worth mentioning that with the pasteurisation process, bTB will not pass to humans through milk.
Many scientists and conservationists, including the esteemed naturalist David Attenborough, argue that finding a vaccination against the disease is the only truly sustainable way to control bTB.
I hate to see animals killed for no good reason and a cull never sat well with me, but I was told by the powers-that-be that it was best for the long-term. This looks like it isn’t the case anymore, so I can’t sit idly by and watch thousands of innocent creatures slaughtered for no good reason. Hence this post.
If the decision does go against the poor old badgers today there is likely to be a legal challenge. If that happens, please spread the word about this new research and help get the decision reversed. Thanks.
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Photo courtesy of The Badger Trust