A major new report on the effectiveness of culling badgers to prevent the spread of bTB in cattle has found that the Government strategy of culling may be effective but it has neglected basic infection prevention on farms which is “severely hampering” efforts to control the disease.
The report commissioned by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declared that badger culling can have a “modest effect” in reducing cattle TB. The authors, led by Charles Godfray, Professor of Zoology at Oxford University also call on the Government to accelerate the development of non-lethal controls: “there is urgent need for more evidence on the efficacy of vaccinations” to inoculate badgers.
Critics of the report have stressed that the study was explicitly asked not to examine the effectiveness of the current culls. Instead, the study refers back to findings and advice published ten years ago following the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RGCT). But since culling began in October 2013, scientists (including several who worked on the RGCT) and campaigners have voiced concern that the methods used in the cull did not adhere to the strict scientific guidance of the RBCT due to cost and convenience.
Though the report believes that culling is a legitimate weapon in the fight against the disease it stresses that farmers could do much more: “It is likely that the farming industry would be more willing to accept other interventions that could negatively affect dairy and beef profitability if they believed that the threat of transmission from badgers was being robustly addressed”.
Professor Godfray says: “If I had to say more one than the other it’s definitely more on the cattle to cattle side [than badger to cattle infection]… In particular, the poor take up of on-farm biosecurity measures and the extent of trading in often high-risk cattle is, we believe, severely hampering disease control.”
Other measures mentioned include keeping neighbouring herds separated to prevent the tuberculosis bacteria passing from nose to nose contact, and preventing badgers from getting on to farms, particularly around feed bins.
The review says 32 culls have been authorised since 2013, at an average cost of £600,000 per site over a four year period – more than a third of this cost on policing.