A number of constituents have contacted me objecting to the Government’s proposals to cull a proportion of the badger population in affected areas, alongside other measures, to try to eradicate bovine TB.
I completely understand - and share – their desire not to see wild animals killed for no purpose. We can’t be led by emotion however - I hope readers will agree that the key to this debate is whether or not the scientific evidence supports culling in specific areas.
Given that I have been contacted by quite a few constituents about this issue, I felt I owed it to them to look into that evidence in some detail before deciding how to vote. I have also met with Professor Ian Boyd, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, to discuss the issue with him.
I’ve uploaded a presentation he sent to me and also a document debunking the arguments made by ‘Team Badger’.
The key points are:
- if we continue as we are, it is almost certain that bovine TB will continue to spread amongst cattle and badgers. It is possible that it will begin to spread amongst other livestock and wildlife as well as domestic pets and the human population. This will impose an increasing cost on the public purse but worse than that the animal welfare implications are appalling. In short, for financial, human health and most importantly animal welfare reasons doing nothing is not an option;
- there is irrefutable evidence that badgers are the main wildlife host - about half of cattle infections in high risk areas are caused by badgers;
- there is also irrefutable evidence both from the UK and abroad that reducing badger numbers - if done on a sufficient scale over a widespread area - reduces the disease in cattle (see the slides entitled ‘Evidence: RBCT led to sustained benefit”, which shows that after four years of culling in the Randomised Badger Culling Trials there was about a 50% reduction and there was a sustained effect for several years after culling stopped; and “Evidence: Controlling wildlife reservoir controls TB”, which shows the evidence from New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland);
- vaccination alone is not an answer, though it is part of the answer. The only vaccine currently available - BCG – has to be injected annually and even then provides only partial protection.
In essence, culling has to be part of the strategy but it won’t eradicate bovine TB on its own.
Finally, it’s worth noting that what’s proposed is a pilot in two areas that will be independently evaluated. If the pilots are successful, then the policy will be rolled out to other high-risk areas – but not to our area because thankfully we are virtually TB free at the moment. But if we don’t do something to stop the spread of this terrible disease, it won’t be long before our local badgers are infected too.
I know this isn’t what many of my constituents want to hear, but I have taken a lot of time to study this issue in detail.