Sunday, July 11, 2004

Krebs - There was another way.

In 1998, Professor Stephen Harris of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol offered an alternative to Krebs, which the then Minister of State, Jack Cunningham MP, ignored.

Professor Harris is an expert on badgers, a past member of the Badger Panel and is refered to in many answers to Parliamentary Questions archived on this site. He has given the authors his permission to quote from this written submission and his criticism of the Krebs 'trial'.

"The experiment serves no useful function. 20 years ago it may have served a useful purpose. Now there is little dispute that badgers pass Tb to cattle. The key questions that need to be answered are not "does transmission occur", but a) how does it occur, b) why is the problem more serious some years than others, and c) what can be done to minimise the risks of transmission."

"Calculations of badger numbers are flawed. Densities in problem areas appear to be significantly higher than 'average' figures in my national badger survey. Krebs is using 'average' figures."

"We have to accept that Tb in badgers appears to be on the increase, and the problem in cattle could get a lot worse. This is a potential welfare issue for both species. Tb only appears to persist in badgers if the social group is 8 or more. As the badger population has increased, foci of infection in the West Midlands has become more pronounced. This area has seen the greatest increase in badger numbers over the last decade."

"Should the badger population continue to increase elsewhere in Britain, it is probable new foci will appear elsewhere as well. This may well be happening, as shown by herd breakdowns in Cheshire, Staffordshire etc."

"Tb positive badgers have been found in most English counties, and as far north as Edinburgh. Tb is widely scattered through the badger population, and new foci could appear with increasing badger numbers"

"The Krebs experiment is not practical, and could not be achieved even with a substantial increase in manpower. I do not see how MAFF (Defra) could complete the experiment outlined by Krebs. If this grandiose experiment is started, but collapses because MAFF cannot keep up with targets, this will cause great embarrassment to the government."

"Finally this issue cannot be addressed objectively by the Expert Group. It consists largely of people who were either on the Review group, and have a vested interest in implementing their own recommendations, and/or people who are not ecologists or experts on badgers."
The Solution

"All data from Thornbury, Offaly and elsewhere has shown that pro-active culling of badgers can be highly successful in reducing Tb in both badgers and cattle, and the reduction in herd breakdowns is both dramatic and potentially long lived"

"TB in badgers is (in 1998) confined to small pockets in the SW.
If these pockets are removed in a one-off operation, the badgers left in the surrounding area will be predominantly healthy and can be allowed to re-colonise the cleared areas. The reduction or elimination of Tb in badgers would lead to a dramatic decline in the number of cattle herd breakdowns."

"Krebs selects arbitary areas on a map. Diseased badgers will remain outside the selected zones. My proposal works on epidemiological units, and clears foci of infection. Few if any infected badgers will remain. There will be significant long-term gains in disease control"

"Rather than decide where to go in 5 years, MAFF/DEFRA could be celebrating a successful impact on herd breakdowns. This could be achieved without killing significally more badgers than in recent years, and with little extra commitment of expenditure."

"Whilst this scheme will not be acceptable to everyone, a good proportion of protagonists from all sides will see its merits.
The Krebs experiment will gain no support from either side."
July 2004. Professor Harris confirmed that in retrospect, he would change nothing in this proposal, and that he took no pleasure in seeing the carnage of cattle slaughtered, as badger populations grew and their infectious load spilled over.
Six years ago he warned it would happen.

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