Sunday, July 06, 2008

A hollow victory

In today's Telegraph, Christopher Booker reminds readers of the 'hollow victory' trumpeted by the animal rights lobby, as last weeks' media leaks indicated that Hilary Benn would not sanction a cull of badgers in response to outbreaks of cattle TB.
In a major victory for the animal rights lobby, so the BBC tells us, the Government will tomorrow announce its veto on a cull of the TB-infected badgers which are the chief cause of the bovine TB sweeping through our cattle herds.

Mr. Booker then offers a thumbnail sketch of governmental prevarication and intransigence over the past twenty years, to the point where currently this country is in danger of another EU invoked ban. "... here are a few of the basic facts about this disaster which the BBC has not been telling us".

Until the 1980s, the culling of infected badgers reduced TB in cattle virtually to zero. Since killing badgers was outlawed, our badger population has soared and TB in both badgers and cattle has reached epidemic proportions.

According to Government figures, the total bill to taxpayers of compensating farmers [ and paying for testing, slaughter and sampling - ed] for the slaughter of their TB-infected cattle will, within six years, have risen to £2 billion (this year alone payments have risen by 40 per cent).

More than 400 of Britain's most experienced vets, including our leading veterinary scientists, have told the Government that the only way to halt this disaster is a systematic cull of infected badgers.

As was confirmed by the former chief scientist, Sir David King, the so-called Krebs trials, used by the Government to justify its policy, were so unscientific that they might have been designed only to show that culling doesn't work.

But arguably the most serious point to have been missed by the BBC in their headline grabbing, is Government's statutory duty under numerous EU and OIE directives to eradicate tuberculosis from both cattle and wildlife, in order that it does not spill over into the human population. A point which we posted below with the compressed and overlong piece which sets out obligations of member states. Booker continues:
The Government is in breach of EU animal health rules obliging it to "eradicate" the wildlife reservoir of the disease. Animal rights groups opposed to culling have been major donors to the Labour Party. Britain is now in serious danger of losing its "TB-free" status which could lose us exports of dairy products worth £600 million a year
The level of disease allowable to attain TB-free trading status in a tested cattle population under international (OIE) trading obligations is substantially less than that currently 'enjoyed' by the UK cattle industry. Article states:
* Bovine tuberculosis must be a notifiable disease.
* 99.8 per cent of herds must have ben officially TB free for a period of three years as disclosed by periodic testing to determine the absence of bovine tuberculosis.
*Periodic testing of cattle is not required where a surveillance programme reveals that 99.9 percent of cattle have been in herds officially TB free for at least six years.

For the year ending December 2007, GB did not have 0.2 percent of its herds officially TB free; 'Deathrow' figures logged 7.6 per cent of herds under TB restriction. And in the first 4 months of 2008 (to April) that figure increased by over 20 percent, with cattle slaughtered showing a staggering 42 percent rise.

Britain does not qualify for TB - free status, and hasn't since 1986 when the Clean Ring badger culling strategy brought incidence down to under 100 herds affected and 686 cattle slaughtered. But let that pass. Booker concludes his overview with a swipe at the new toy Defra are happy to see in use - gamma interferon and comments:
The animal rights lobby raises no objection to this but is quite happy that thousands of infected badgers should continue to die a lingering and painful death (as we see from the corpses of TB-weakened badgers on our roadsides). It has indeed been a remarkable "victory".

The only winner here is tuberculosis.

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