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Defra's chief scientist challenged to "stand up for science"

[Tuesday 11 July 2006]

THE debate surrounding a proposed cull of Badgers to control the spread of Bovine TB in Britain's cattle herds has taken another twist just two weeks after a war of words erupted between conservationists and farmers leaders.

badger
Science being ignored in cull debate - Badger Trust

Defra's chief scientific adviser, Professor Howard Dalton, has being challenged to "stand up for science" by the Badger Trust which believes the scientific case for the cull has not been made.

Dalton's role is to 'provide ministers with the best possible scientific advice, gain public trust in Defra's science, to raise the profile of the science and ensure that it is of the highest quality'.

But in a letter, Badger Trust chairman David Williams has warned Professor Dalton: "It is our view that public confidence in Defra's ability to use sound science responsibly is in serious danger of being compromised by the Department's current approach to bovine tuberculosis and to badgers in particular.

"This complex problem is surely a litmus test of the contribution that your office makes to Defra and we trust that you will be keen to assert your authority on the matter. If you cannot stand up for science in Defra, the claims made for your office are simply empty words."

The Badger Trust is concerned that Ministers continue to claim there is "uncertainty" in the scientific research into the role played by badgers.

In a letter to the Trust, the new Secretary of State at Defra, David Miliband, claimed that "the more academic side of the scientific profession" is polarised on the matter.

Despite the creation of Defra in the wake of foot and mouth disease, with promises to base future policies on sound science, it is clear that vets still rule the roost and have no more respect for science today than they did in 2001

Trevor Lawson - Badger Trust

Trevor Lawson, spokesman for the Trust, commented:

"Government vets have persuaded ministers that the science is uncertain. But this is not a view shared by the scientific community and it is alarming to see our most respected scientists accused of being 'polarised' in their opinions.

"The role of Professor Dalton is to stand up for the scientific research. Professor Dalton's own Science Advisory Council has told him that badger culling is 'unlikely to be an effective control measure'. Unless he visibly asserts his scientific authority, ministers' promises to base policy on sound science will ring hollow.

"Defra's vets are determined to undermine science which contradicts their dogmatic determination to kill badgers. Despite the creation of Defra in the wake of foot and mouth disease, with promises to base future policies on sound science, it is clear that vets still rule the roost and have no more respect for science today than they did in 2001."

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