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Badger culls: more confusion

[Tuesday 9 November 2010]

New scientific evidence published yesterday on one of the bitterest countryside controversies – calls for a mass extermination of badgers – add even more to the confusion which has affected the problem for the best part of a decade.

And it fails to answer the biggest question involved: do badgers spread tuberculosis to cattle, as farmers claim, or is it the other way round and cattle give the disease to badgers, as bodies like the RSPCA insist.

In two parallel trials set by the previous Government, one field tests in Gloucestershire and another computer-based model on ways to treat the spread of bovine TB, came up with a mixed result: a vaccine can reduce the badger’s ability to spread the infectious spread of the disease by up to 75% but cannot stop the total spread.

But neither can large scale culling, which caused massive public outrage when first suggested by New Labour. So Government vets are now recommending a combination of both.

This writes, our countryside commentator John Sheard, is likely to satisfy neither the farmers nor wildlife lovers in a situation which has been exacerbated by a massive PR, mistake by the new Coalition to allow farmers to shoot badgers which, until now, have been a protected species.

But the key question chicken or egg questions have not been answered: are cattle or badgers the cause of the spread of the disease, which has now moved north from the West Country and has been reported in Derbyshire.

Feedback received on this subject:

Regarding the question as to whether cattle or badgers are the cause of the spread of the disease, it has been made plain in many scientific papers and reviews on the subject that it is due to both.

The WildlifeOnline and the Mammal Society web sites give some information. The slow spread outwards from an area is likely to be due to badgers and the jumps to far away places is due to cattle.

Successful TB control can be compared with a three legged stool: testing and removal of infected cattle; control of movement from infected herds; control of wildlife. Like a stool all three legs need to be in place.

Anonymous

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