In light of evidence that, in their opinion, demonstrates that nine years of murdering badgers has not succeeded in reducing bovine TB in cattle, scientists, veterinarians, and naturalists are calling for a halt on the badger cull.
This summer marks the beginning of the tenth season of killing legally protected badgers to lessen cow TB, despite the fact that a scientific report published earlier this year in the journal Veterinary Record found that culling had little to no effect on the prevalence of bTB in cattle herds. The government claims that the paper’s research was defective, but its proponents contend that it proves the practice should be banned.
Experts who served on the government’s independent scientific panel examining the effectiveness and humaneness of culling, including Jane Goodall, Prof. Andrew Knight, and Prof. Ranald Munro, warned that new culling licenses could target 25,000 badgers in addition to the more than 175,000 killed under license since the contentious policy began in 2013.
Even though the government promised in 2020 to replace badger culling with cow and badger vaccine, improved cattle TB tests, and improved biosecurity measures on farms, under new licenses issued this summer, badgers will still be shot to death until 2025.
The founders of Born Free, Will Travers and Virginia McKenna, as well as Chris Packham, Caroline Lucas, and other signatories to the letter asked the government to perform “a comprehensive, objective, and public” assessment of the policy before awarding the final batch of four-year culling licenses.
The independent ecologist Tom Langton and the veterinarians Iain McGill and Mark Jones, who are also signatories to the letter, examined government data on bovine TB in cattle herds in England’s “high risk” area over the period of 2010 to 2020 and discovered that in nine out of ten counties, the incidence of the disease peaked and started to decline before badger culling started.
In response, Defra released a graph of its own analysis, which was not peer-reviewed and was later acknowledged to be based on “incorrect calculations.” The Vet Record paper, according to Defra, was “scientifically faulty,” and culling has decreased cattle TB, it claims.
The independent paper’s lead author, Tom Langton, stated: “Defra have driven themselves into a preposterous scientific hole and now just refuse to debate it. This is a symptom of a government that has lost control and is unable to acknowledge that badger culling is now being shown as a cruel and inefficient failure based on its own data.
A Defra spokesperson stated: “We have reviewed the paper published in Vet Record along with Apha [Animal and Plant Health Agency] scientists and found that the analysis was scientifically flawed. However, national statistics show that our strategy for eradicating bovine TB is effective as we are now witnessing sustained decreases in this pernicious disease.
We can now move on to the next stage of the long-term eradication strategy thanks to the advancements made, which includes outlining methods to increase badger vaccination along with enhanced cow testing and a potential cattle vaccine. We have always been clear that the current badger cull should not last any longer than is absolutely required.
“Our analysis was extensively peer-reviewed and robust,” claimed McGill. The response from Defra was not peer-reviewed and was founded on false information. Defra should have no problem having an impartial examination of all the available data if they are convinced they are correct.
It is very evident, according to Lucas, that removing badgers does not halt the development of cattle TB. Defra, however, keeps its fingers in its ears and continues to kill at will even after being shown this evidence. A moratorium is necessary to provide independent review of the facts more time, and this will undoubtedly further emphasize the need to put an end to the brutal and ineffective badger cull.
This article by Patrick Barkham was first published by The Guardian on 20 July 2022. Lead Image: The government pledged in 2020 to phase out badger culling in favour of cattle and badger vaccination. Photograph: Colin Varndell/Alamy.
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