Badger Bovver

Baroness Murphy

Lord Krebs

You can bet your bottom dollar that we won’t have a badger cull, and it won’t be anything to do with the science. It’ll be because by next year the Government won’t be able to resist the noise from a rather small group of campaigners. Someone is bound to comment that an e-petition of 160,000 against the cull is a lot…but if you’ve ever tried to get people to sign a petition you’ll know it’s easy-peasy. All depends on the emotional investment of the campaigners, nothing to do with evidence. There have been almost as many votes on the e-petition to reduce the tax on beer and to save children’s heart surgery at Glenfield Hospital Leicester (why that particular hospital? No doubt campaigners will very soon let me know!)  Do we really think that over 100,000 people have weighed up all the evidence? I am a trained academic medic and I found the badger cull evidence complex and difficult. Any cause will rouse the public’s sympathy if it’s about kids, fluffy bunnies and their favourite hobby.  It was rather like that in the Commons yesterday too.

Caroline Lucas said in her introduction to the debate yesterday “If we are to talk about eradicating bovine TB, it is important that we go back to the science and try to put emotions aside”.   So let’s do that. Lord Krebs, who has been involved in the earlier scientific trials, said in the House of Lords on 23 October (Hansard c 148) “the long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years. In other words, 84% of the problem is still there. To reflect on what that means, this is not a reduction in absolute terms but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase. So after nine years there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning”. I do not doubt that Lord Krebs analysis is correct. The Secretary of State has confirmed that the incidence of bovine TB will double in 10 years. In those circumstances, a cull would reduce the rate of increase. It will not result in a reduction in bovine TB.

Lord Krebs and many other scientists in the house have concluded a cull isn’t worth it. But I wonder….I would like to point out that if the Government took a similar approach to the rate of rising long-term debt, that is simply not worry about the even faster accumulation of debt by continuing to overspend at the same rate, we would end up in even worse financial mess than we have now. A reduction in the rate of growth of TB seems to me to be worth it in the absence of effective vaccine at the moment. I’d like the Government to stick to its guns (or the farmers to stick to theirs), but it’s probably too late.


14 comments for “Badger Bovver

  1. maude elwes
    26/10/2012 at 1:48 pm

    This is one of the reasons government is unfit for purpose. You cannot run a country with a crowd of juveniles who feel more concerned over idiotic lobby groups for animal rights rather thanlook after the health of the public they govern.

    The badgers are spreading TB. That is a fact. It leaves us all exposed and includes children. Perhaps their own. Listening to a group who speak and sound like teenagers is absurd. And no wonder the general public has no faith in their judgment. Where are these people sleeping at night?

    It’s the same with the traffic lights on food. A waste of time for the public but a rouse for the food sellers. Once again, the government is frighted to rule. Or, is it they want the nation to be full of sickness and death. A good way to cull us rather than badgers, a good way to keep the people as unhealthy as possible. Wishing them soon to be in one of the choice hospitals of their bonus scheme project.

    We have voted ourselves in a bunch of sinister school boys.

  2. ladytizzy
    26/10/2012 at 3:09 pm

    “I am a trained academic medic…it is important that we go back to the science and try to put emotions aside. So let’s do that…I do not doubt that Lord Krebs analysis is correct…Lord Krebs and many other scientists in the house have concluded a cull isn’t worth it.”

    “But I wonder…”

    Apparently it really is that easy-peasy!

    PS Prof Kebs is about right, in this case.

  3. MilesJSD
    26/10/2012 at 4:04 pm

    I am amazed
    (horrified – terror-struck would be more appropriate for my emotional-responses
    which NB always precede cognitive-perceptions and thinking-interpretations
    see recent psychology-research findings)
    1) the noble baroness both believes and will-fight-to-the-death-to-defend-the-truth-of
    (“)there is complete-enough evidence to make the decision to Snipe-Kill-Off the excess of badger flesh and skins, that are ‘irreversibly’ burrowing away England’s green and pleasant Land and spreading the deadly Tuberculosis Disease via cow’s milk to the innocent, eternally-sustainworthy, and hard-working British Peoples (“);

    2) that those remainder who Gcvern us from the Commons as well as the Lords have not yet habituated (constituted in Law) that although emotions are the very first response-energies to ‘kick-in’, they must
    as a standing-rule and individual-personal skill requisite
    be put behind into abeyance
    until all stages of information-gathering-and-sharing, discussion, formal-argumentation, moral-reasoning, and preliminary-debating have been concluded

    as science and human-developmental and behavioural research has reported
    the final decision-making can not be separated from emotion
    indeed, the final decision is always majorly made out of an emotion-set rather than the (by then already established, and hopefully validly and strongly reasoned) mind-set.

  4. M. Hughes
    26/10/2012 at 4:47 pm

    The forecast reduction in bovine TB (using Defra’s rather dodgy figures (they assume free shooting produces the same results as cage trapping) is a mere 12-16% reduction in NINE years over what it might otherwise be ie it’s not a real reduction, just a slowing down in the rate. For that tens of thousands of badgers, most of them uninfected, will die. Vaccination of badgers can help but Baroness Murphy misses the real issue–the way to beat bTB is to impose long-term stringent cattle-based measures allied to much more effective and regular testing. Badgers are a diversion. The real problem, as our top scientists have spelt out, is cattle-to-cattle infection. Only now, after years of indecision has Defra announced new movement and testing procedures which, given enough time, will make a major impact and really begin to bring bTB under control.Message: target the real problem and use the right tools.

  5. tom
    26/10/2012 at 7:35 pm

    Nice article – up to the end – where I feel your comparison of this policy issue to government debt is not a good one.

    This is because you’ve not mentioned any alternatives to the culling policy (I assume there are some? I haven’t actually been following this and am not attached to either side).

    What were the alternative things government could do to reduce the spread of Bovine TB?

    Off the top of my head I guess they could restrict cattle movement – so it spreads at a slower rate?

    Anything else?

    With the government debt issue there are no alternatives to spending or not spending (that I can see) thats why I don’t like the comparison..

  6. Gareth Howell
    27/10/2012 at 1:10 pm

    In view of the rarity of Badgers would it not be far better to vaccinate the badgers?
    I only know of one sett in several square miles round here.

    We now have Danish Ash disease to contend with by comparison with Dutch elm disease of the 70s-80s which was, I understand, a fictitious disease. There are still plenty of Elms about but they do not live that long.

    We do have some extraordinary pseudo scientific crazes over the years, do we not?
    C(k)illing badgers is one of them, and a crime against the natural world.

  7. brian moorlock
    28/10/2012 at 11:47 pm

    Baroness Murphy fails to mention that the difference in trappoing and shooting badgers could make a great deal of difference in the perturbation effect, especially if the cull will be required to cull about 80 per cent of the estimated badgers ( not the 70 per cent that was initially stated, due to the lack of accuracy in estimating the numbers). So the effect could be an increase in bTB. I’m a doctor with a PhD in an environmental science – and I’ve read just about all I can on the subject of the cull – I’m not a fluffy bunny hugger, but I think that the vote in the Commons reflects informed opinion in the UK. If the Government goes ahead with the culling it will show it cares very little for public opinion and that it can be swayed by a small group of the UK population – the farmers. Do you know that far more cowns are killed each year due to lameness than through bTB? Muc h of this lameness is caused by poor conditions. Also do you know that dairy cows are usually killed before they reach six years old, whereas naturally they would live to 12, 20 or even 30 years.

  8. Gareth Howell
    29/10/2012 at 1:02 pm

    “The badgers are spreading TB.”

    It is easy to blame badgers; they do not get used. Deer are described as vermin by the farming lobby, which is far from the truth, merely that they do not want anybody else to have the meat, and the deer do roam sufficiently far for most people to have a go at them somewhere or other, if they want to….. for meat.

    They are delightfully intelligent and inquisitive creatures.

    Cows/beef get/s used. BSE.
    The optimum increase is between 0-6 years old,when they are mature. No point hanging on to them any longer.

    Badgers? Let’s put an end to dinosaurs!eh?

  9. MilesJSD
    29/10/2012 at 7:48 pm

    The two main contenders for badger-control here appear to be
    1) snipe or shotgun them, on-site, on sight;
    2) trap them alive and vaccinate them.

    The problem is so clearly a long-term ‘chronic’ one as is, despite also currently becoming out-of-handedly ‘acute’,

    that I would have thought it more eke-o-nomical all-round long-term and ongoing solution to at least begin to

    3) trap them and transport them alive to new Badger-Farms
    thus creating
    new knowledge-gathering scientific and educational centre(s)
    a new employment and ‘green’ productivity sub-sector;

    (and of course thus ensuring that such small numbers of badger-setts that are allowed to remain ‘wild’ can be kept under 100%-effective vaccination control;

    as well as thereby providing an evolutionary gene-bank for further breeding purposes within the Badger farms).

  10. Gareth Howell
    30/10/2012 at 9:18 am

    “far more cows are killed each year due to lameness than through bTB? Much of this lameness is caused by poor conditions”

    Battery hens have had legislation to prevent/discourage the battery farm, but all animals would prefer shelter at certain times of year, hens and cows included!

    A cow which has been used for milk and is about to be slaughtered for what is left of its meat after several years of milking is not a pretty sight, at the best of times.

    If a farmer then complains about TB it is hard to know what to think….. about the farmer.

    Such arguments make me think I should be a vegetarian, and in truth, I very rarely eat beef. It is very fashionable to own a herd though. The herders of central Africa have a higher status than those who till the land!

  11. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    30/10/2012 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks for those comments. M Hughes, this is surely a problem which needs a variety of measure to be put in place. I agree with you there. Cattle controls, biosecurity on farms, vaccination of badgers and cattle need much further development but we will still need to eradicate the source of the infection whenever possible. And that’s why Tom I don’t think there are any short term alternatives to culling badgers…there are many long term alternatives which might work better.

    Gareth Howell, badgers are not rare!. They are widespread, the population is growing and even if we were to cull 80% we would have thousands left. They are NOT an endangered species just a popular one!
    Brian Moorlock, the perturbation effect is surely most likely to be seen in small pilot culls not large scale culls? I don’t see the relevance of your point about loss of cattle through lameness I would agree that it is a horrible thing and needs tackling vigorously. Both cattle and badgers deserve a disease free life.

  12. Rhodri Mawr
    31/10/2012 at 7:03 pm

    The numbers of badgers can only be conjectural, being nocturnal animals, difficult to do a head count. You probably can with foxes since farmers make a point of breeding them for the hunt.

    In this area, I know for example that there are about 150 deer in an area of about 4sq miles, ably assisted by local foresters. They are rarely seen by daytime humans; they retire to the deeper forest during the day.
    I am more or less certain that in the same 3sq miles there are at the most two badger setts. They were getting killed on the road, but no more. There are none. I have a clear idea of where the Foxes dens are and that it is lively and well used!

    I have seen no statistics for badgers in various parts of the country; density and so on. Since the baroness takes up the cause of cull on the basis of human/cattle disease perhaps she has.

    I would be glad to see them. The RSPB does bird counts, which may have some use.
    I fear that no such badger count has been properly done.

  13. Gareth Howell
    05/11/2012 at 3:49 pm

    You should spend more time culling rats from town drains, rather than spend time on harmless badgers.

    Baddgers, wisely do not like humans sufficiently to spend quality time with them in town. They don’t like cooked human food quite the way rats do.

    We have few rats in the country since there is no cooked human food.


  14. Herbert Pearcey
    11/11/2012 at 5:33 pm

    If only those who comment would study the facts and statistics that DEFRA have made fully available on the web, I hope they would be alarmed.

    For example, the number of herds becoming affected that were not previously affected is increasing year by year by 5% a year. This cannot be due to animal to animal infection because those cattle will not have come into contact with infected cattle, either from within their own herd or from infected herds. (Cattle from infected herds cannot be moved.)

    The number of cattle now being slaughtered has reached around 35,000 a year at an enormous cost to the taxpayer and devastating effect to farmers and their industry. It is not just mature cows that are slaughtered and not just cows but cattle being reared for beef also. The restrictions on movement prevent the exchanges that are so important in the normal processes of husbandry and breeding.

    The results from the trials of culling in a limited area to which Lord Krebs was referring were significant in several respects other than the one that he chose to mention.

    In the area of the cull itself the reduction in the rate of increase reached 28% – Lord Krebs’ 16% related to an extended area. It should be noted, too, that the cull was for a limited time and that the reduction persisted well beyond that time and, further, that the cull itself was imperfect because traps were removed or tampered with.

    The facts that there was a significant improvement in the culling area and a temporary negative effect just beyond the perimeter are clear proof if one is needed that badgers are a source of infection. Indeed, the group of famous scientists of which Lord Krebs was a member concluded “Existing control measures will not be fully efficient without effective measures to address transmission between badgers and cattle.”

    DEFRA has figures that indicate the the number of badgers in Britain increased by 77% between the years 1994/7 and 1985/8 and had then reached between 300,000 and 400,000.
    There have been no counts since then but the numbers must now be enormous.

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