Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Badgers and bovine TB

This is the text of a letter in the current edition of The Veterinary Record (18 September). It should be engraved on the heart of Mr Bradshaw, preferably without anaesthetic.

As a members of the newly formed Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, we are dismayed to read the recent (13th) report of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRACom) on bovine TB and DEFRA’s earlier consultation document, and to note an absence of any strategy or intention to address the uncontrolled and expanding badger population and the problem of endemic bovine TB in that species.

The recommendations of the EFRACom, which are wholly centred on control of the disease in cattle, unashamedly ignore the basic problem in badgers. We are particularly dismayed to note that our own association, the BVA, in its submission to DEFRA seems to encourage this politically motivated denial of the problem in badgers by stating that: Badger culling might not be an acceptable option as far as the general public is concerned and a badger management policy might be the preferred option. Culling could only be acceptable if it was proven beyond doubt that there was no alternative action to control TB in cattle.

Such a statement is a recipe for inaction and music to the ears of a paralysed Government which wants more and more consultation and no decision. Furthermore, it is a pity that, as a profession, we appear to speak with two voices, since the RCVS in its brief but cogently argued submission to the EFRACom conclude by hoping “That the select committee will encourage the Government to recognise that its present policy of waiting for the outcome of the culling trial is not sustainable.” So what do we get from the EFRACom? A statement to the effect that a decision about the culling of badgers must await the outcome of the randomised badger culling trials. An outcome which, as the RCVS again cogently argued in its submission, is likely to be inconclusive.

The badger is a species without natural predators. It is a classic example of a population out of control through lack of man-agement. The problem is twofold. First, since the badger was made a protected species in 1973 the population has been expanding until it is now serious agricultural pest in many parts of the country simply from weight of numbers and the damage it does by digging. Secondly a large proportion of badgers, up to 30 percent in some areas in the south west and West Midlands, are endemically infected with bovine TB, with many excreting vast numbcrs of infectious tubercle bacteria into the agricultural environment.

Badgers suffer a painful and pro-tracted death from TB. They also suffer from the adverse effects of overpopulation, namely loss of territory, fighting, wounding, road accidents, lack of food and ultimately starvation. The badger population, therefore, urgently needs to be brought under control for the sake of badgers themselves, cattle and cattle farmers, and other wildlife, for example ground nesting birds, not least because of the hazard from TB to man and other wild and domestic animals. Failure to control TB in badgers has inevitably resulted in spill over into other wildlife.

A nationwide strategy for the control of the badger population per se is therefore necessary. Over four years ago, two of us (L. N. T. and A. M.) advocated modification of the exisiting badger legislation to enable landowners and farmers or their nominees (and only them) to deal with their local problem by culling excessive numbers of badgers. This is not reactive culling to the incidence of bovine TB; it is proactive, ongoing population control. A more radical and comprehensive culling strategy is clearly needed in areas of epidemic bovine TB. But such a scheme as ours should limit spread to currently uninfected areas. Furthermore, it should be attractive to the Government since it requires little or no input from DEFRA and is unlikely to be perturbed by so-called badger protection groups.

Finally, we submit that it is the duty of the veterinary profession to pronounce on possible biological solutions, not to speculate on political realities.

W L Allen. L. H. Thomas.
A. McDiarmid.
Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management
c/o Smiths Cottage
North Heath
Newbury, Berkshire

4 comments:

DICKFORTH said...

When most of the cattle farmers in the country have reduced their herds or given up after MTR perhaps the vets will then value farmers and realise that they should have questioned Defra policy on TB long ago instead of being a load of sheep.

Matthew said...

Thanks Dickforth.
One of our contributors has just met such a (politically ambitious)sheep - Richard Sibley. His speech on bovine Tb was high on veterinary 'opportunities' including testing cattle.
£70 / hour for sticking a needle in a cow's neck? But Mr. Sibley enjoyed that, and was employing more vets in his practise to do it. Did we say 'beneficial crisis?'.

Bio security figured large - but only on the cattle / cattle side. Little or no mention of badgers.
Other soundbites included:
"No simple solution"
"Not in my top 10 of cattle industry problems"
"No economic impact"
"Lameness and mastitis more of a welfare problem"
"Marketing? - no problem"

"Somebody needs to get the Minister to set an objective" (Why not you Mr. Sibley?)

He had taken Bradshaw for a guided tour of his patch, but if he gave a speech like this no wonder the industry's in trouble. He'd given the Minister exactly the type of black hole to slither into that the vets who set up the Wildlife Management group described.

Sibley said that he had asked our Ben what his aims were for bTb.
The answer - equally slick and selfish - was that he (Bradshaw) "Did not intend to be in the position, when that decision had to be made".

Ruth Burrow said...

Dairy Event, September 2004. So, according to Richard Sibley, it does not matter if "X" thousand of innocent cattle are slaughtered re TB, being that TB is not amongst his 'top 10' of concerns. Is he oblivious of where the South West stands in TB? We are fast approaching the position of being ring fenced as a territory, with no permitted cattle 'exports' out of the area? Perhaps he should have visited the Scottish DEFRA equivalent stand at the Dairy Event, where he could have been updated, on advice being given to our Scottish counterparts.
In my eyes, and I suspect many others, Richard Sibley has been, in the past, an outspoken member of the veterinary community, and I vividly recall speaking to him in the early days of BSE. Is it the fact that TB is now generating lucrative income into his practice, and like many 'others', are riding on the gravy-train, and theoritically condoning the present situation, in what was a very public arena at the Dairy event. TB and badgers are not selective as to what farm will next be victim, and to in anyway to de-prioritise the problem of TB, and to condone or support any Government delaying tactic, is beyond belief. It should be such people as Richard Sibley who should be openly condemning Ben Bradshaw for his non-action, and demanding that action has to be taken, for the sake of our cattle population, his own farmer clients and badgers themselves. I applaud the vets who have launched this Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, and personally thank them for taking a stand.

Anonymous said...

Only his heart Richard?!!
That's quite mild for you.