"DEFRA cops out on controlling bovine TB - July 2008
Predictably, coming as it does from this feeble Government, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Hilary Benn, announced on Monday, July 7, 2008 that DEFRA will continue to pursue the policies that have, over the last decade, led to a tenfold increase in bovine tuberculosis in cattle. In spite of statements by the Chief Scientist, Sir David King last October and the more recent report in April by the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the House of Commons that the wildlife reservoir of bovine TB, namely badgers, will have to be culled in order to control the disease, DEFRA have stuck their heads firmly back in the sand in the hope that the situation will get better if they just go on killing more and more cattle (some 28,000 in 2007 and rising already in 2008).
Like Mr. Micawber, Mr. Benn is hoping that something will turn up. In this case something like a vaccine. But a vaccine, if one ever does turn up and however potent it may be, cannot be expected to work, either for cattle or badgers, in the face of massive challenge from the current heavily infected badger population. Furthermore vaccination of cattle against TB is prohibited for this and other good biological reasons under current EU legislation. Scientists have been looking for decades without success for a better vaccine than BCG.
As long ago as 1998, when figures were last published, the prevalence of TB infection in badgers taken during Government removal operations across Great Britain was 26% and this figure cannot be expected to have improved since then.
All six reports since 1980 including the report last year of the so called Independent Scientific Group have identified badgers as the major wildlife reservoir of infection. Dunnet in 1985 declared that no further expenditure was necessary to prove the role of badgers in the epidemiology of bovine TB and in 1995 the Chief Veterinary Officer wrote that 90% of all cattle outbreaks were badger related with less than 10% due to cattle sources.
Mr. Benn has been seduced by the siren voices of Lord Krebs and Professor John Bourne, who, being desperate to defend the hugely expensive and flawed Randomised Badger Culling Trials of the last 10 years, have persuaded the Minister that to bear down solely on the disease in cattle whilst ignoring the huge reservoir of infection in badgers is a realistic policy for control. Lord Krebs is quoted as saying killing 170,000 badgers is simply not an option (where does he get that figure from?) but does he suppose killing 30,000 cattle year on year is an acceptable alternative?
Cattle unlike sheep are highly susceptible to bovine TB and simply act as sentinels for the disease in badgers. To ignore the disease in badgers is to ignore a ticking biological time bomb. It is estimated that some 2,000 badgers a year in the south west alone die from bovine TB. Furthermore they die slowly (340-730 days depending on the site of infection) during which time they will be excreting vast numbers of tubercle bacteria into the environment.
Mr. Benn should take his head out of the sand, look west and emulate the robust approach by the Welsh Government that is planning to eradicate bovine TB from Wales.
For more information, including our response to the ISG’s report, June 2007, see:
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