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.