The Green Party recognises that bovine TB is a serious problem, that it threatens the livelihood of many farmers, causes undue stress and costs the taxpayer around £50 million a year. The problem has become progressively worse since the early 1980’s and successive governments have failed to develop a satisfactory policy to combat it. This Coalition Government is no exception. As the Defra website understates: ‘A number of different measures have been tried to control the TB in cattle by culling badgers. None of these were entirely successful. ‘ Put more simply, policies, largely reliant on culling, but including movement restrictions and herd testing, have failed. The measure of this failure has been the progressive spread of the disease from a few remaining residual pockets in the West Country in the late 1970’s to most agricultural areas of mainland Britain.
The disease has been spread by the movement of infected cattle. As Environment Secretary Owen Paterson says, “Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry.” Such a rapid spread could not be caused by badgers who, if undisturbed, will remain in a restricted locality for the whole of their relatively short lives. There is evidence to show that the level of disease on badgers lags that in cattle in the same area. If badgers were causing the spread, the disease would be higher in their population than in cattle. In addition, infected cattle are found in areas with no badger population. It is true that badgers can pass the infection back to cattle, but most infection is cattle to cattle and always has been.
The fixation that some farmers, rural vets and politicians have with the badger to cattle transmission has prevented the adoption of the effective control regime that this country needs. Because of opposition to badger culling, Professor John Krebs was asked to evaluate its effectiveness 20 years ago. He found that there was a lack of scientific information on which to base recommendations and he advised that a properly conducted study of bTB in this country be carried out. This study took 10 years and its final report, a rigorous, peer reviewed scientific evaluation of the disease in the UK was published in 2008. It contained two key conclusions, these were:
First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.
Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection.
Further, the report recommended that: Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone. These measures include improved bio-security on farms to prevent contact between badgers and cattle, regular testing of cattle, and strictly controlled movements linked to the testing regime so that no infected cattle are moved and an improvement in the reliability of the bTB test. The clear message is that culling is unnecessary and can be counter-productive.
It should be noted that this ten year study included a scientifically based Randomised Badger Cull Trial designed to test the effectiveness of culling in both infected areas and in clear areas to check the spread. The report stated: RBCT results showed that reactive culling [in response to an outbreak of the disease] increased, rather than reduced, the incidence of TB in cattle, making this unacceptable as a future policy option. On Proactive culling, designed to stop the spread of the disease in clear areas the report found: reduced TB incidence in cattle in culled areas. However, …. this beneficial effect on cattle breakdowns was offset by an increased incidence of the disease in surrounding un-culled areas.
The Green Party accepts these scientific findings and strongly opposes the new badger-cull pilots as contrary to the clear scientific evidence; we also have significant animal-welfare, public-safety and ethical concerns. Caroline Allen, a practising vet who speaks on animal welfare issues has said, ‘..the measure of success of the cull is a reduction in TB of around 15%, i.e. leaving 85% of the disease untouched, this all seems completely nonsensical.’ She also noted that the Government has cut funding for vaccination trials. This decision is also nonsensical. Greens support the decision by the Wales Assembly to scrap the cull and fund a scientific vaccination trial. We strongly support those independent groups, including Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, who are raising funds from the public to run a five year trial of vaccination in the badger population. We endorse the Trust’s strategy to control the disease through vaccination and increased biosecurity on farms and call on the Government to provide funding for measures such as electric fencing and badger gates to segregate cattle and badgers. The Government must also increase funding for an oral badger vaccination and for improved cattle testing. It must work with the EU to get approval for the use of the available cattle vaccine and to get increased funding for improved treatments. In addition the movement restrictions on animals from infected areas must be more strictly enforced.
If farmers are serious about bringing bTB under control in the UK, they must accept the science, stop treating badgers as a scapegoat and adopt this packet of measures. They require a lead from Government and from the NFU. If these bodies will not give this lead, then farmers like so many other section of society must turn to those who will give the lead needed and vote for a change of leadership, both of the NFU and of the country.
Please Sign the anti-cull e-petition and get your friends to do the same. The No 10 petition to stop the cull has now passed 220,000 signatures.
But the more signatures it gets the stronger the message it sends to the Government so keep signing!http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38
Fore more information on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Vaccination Trial go to: