At the same time, if you’ve been on one of our bushcraft courses, you’ll know that the magnificent ancient woodland we use is part of a farm, a farm with a sizable herd of cattle. Not only that, we’ve given nicknames to some of them as they come over to scratch on the car as we unload our kit. So we need to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the farming community around us.
As a sceptic I need to balance my feelings with the evidence and to understand whether the cull can be justified in any way at all.
So just how big a problem is bovine TB in the UK?
From reading the press, listening to the news etc., the impression I had was that bovine TB is a big problem in the UK. I found this on the BBC
“Ministers and the NFU say the cull is needed to control TB in cattle, with 28,000 cattle slaughtered in 2012 at a cost of £100m to taxpayers.”
Looking at the DEFRA website it confirms the number of cattle slaughtered. It says that the number of cattle found to be infected with bovine TB in 2012 was 3,900; the other 24,100 cattle were killed as a control measure.
About 0.04% of our cattle contracted the disease last year and a further 0.24% were killed as a control measure. The number and percentage of cattle slaughtered, including as a control measure, are smaller than I’d imagined. However, if I was a farmer whose herd was decimated, these numbers might not be of comfort.
The BBC article says that bovine TB cost the taxpayer £100 million in 2012. So not farmers. Farmers who lose cattle to bovine TB are compensated by DEFRA, so the cost is borne by the taxpayer. So whilst losing a herd of cattle will be upsetting, farmers aren’t financially worse off, only the state. Although not by as much as reported if the Daily Express is correct in its report that 29% of this cost is recouped by selling the meat for human consumption.
Will culling badgers stop the spread of bovine TB?
Whilst the scale of the problem is interesting, the real crux of the matter is whether culling works. For the cull to go ahead, the evidence must be conclusive? The tax-payer funded ten year study by the Independent Scientific Group must have said that a cull was the best way to control bovine TB, surely? But no, from “Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence, A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle, An Epidemiological Investigation into Bovine Tuberculosis Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, Presented to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs”
it says that proactive culling resulted in a 23% reduction of infection inside the culling areas and a 25% rise in infection outside (pp20). The report also says that culling is not cost effective. It goes on to say that substantial reductions in the incidence of bovine TB could be achieved through cattle-based control measures (pp21).
It doesn’t seem to me that the evidence is there to support a cull of badgers. In fact I’d go further and say that the evidence suggests the opposite and I’m mystified and appalled as to why the policy of culling is going ahead. It can only be a political decision, as it has no scientific basis.
A more humane and cost effective way would be to focus on the disease itself and to introduce control measures around how cattle are managed.