Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cost v. benefit ( or skewing the numbers)

Much is made of the alleged cost of culling badgers aka the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. And as both we and the trial managers have said, this proved 'ridiculously expensive for what it delivered'.

The quoted figure for each square kilometre of the RBCT cage trapped areas was £3,800, which at x badgers per is nothing short of - crazy.
This figure first surfaced in the Defra publication, 'Cost Benefit analysis of Badger management as a component of Bovine TB control in England', as £3,799 and neatly rounded up, has passed unhindered into TB numbers.
An 'Opinion' piece in Farmers Guardian (sorry, no link) this week, has drawn our attention to yet another Defra anomaly surrounding this assumption.

Jim Webster has placed two documents side by side. The ISG tome "Bovine TB : The Scientific Evidence, A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to control TB in Cattle .. blah, blah, blah..' And the 'Impact Assessment of Amendments to legislation to allow the Vaccination of Badgers by persons other than Veterinary Surgeons.'

In both processes, areas are mapped, setts identified and cage traps set. In the case of the now defunct Vaccination Trial, large mesh English cages with 2 x 2 inch mesh (capable of taking a shot via any aperture) (In the case of the WAG cull, cages were designed shorter, with smaller mesh from which anything daft enough to enter had to be translocated to be shot.)

The RBCT used the 2 x 2 inch large mesh cages and PQs told us of the wastage for this type of high profile operation thus:
"..... Management records indicate that - over 116 culling operations, across 19 trial areas, between December 1998 and 10th October 2003, during which 15,666 traps were sited - there were 8981 individual occasions where a trap was interfered with, and 1827 individual occasions when a trap was removed."
 (Ref: Hansard 8th Dec 2003 Col 218W [ 141971]
Thus almost 70 percent of traps proved useless - and a published a cost of £3,800 per . Leading to the conclusion that this method of badger culling, would too expensive.

But the Vaccination Trial, using exactly the same cages and protocol published a annual cost of £1,440 per sq. km. for trapping and vaccinating badgers.

As Jim says, to account for the £2,360 per difference, and as they were providing the vaccine, Defra must 'be paying way over the odds for the 0.22 hollow point ammunition'.

(Or have the illegal antics of the Animal Rights Activists during the RBCT cost the taxpayer £2,360 per ?)

On the other hand, the pen pushers advising Defra and the WAG Ministers, may be somewhat economic with their information on culling, over enthusiastic about vaccinating infected badgers - and a tad skewed confused with their numbers.

As Jim Webster says,
"At the very least Defra is going to have to go back and prepare these figures properly this time, and ideally under the supervision of competent professionals".


Anonymous said...

surely its clear from your own maths where the difference lies. in the culling trial as you say 70% of the traps were useless due to disruption. Defra have said no traps were damaged in their vaccine trial, hence much more effective use of resuorces. There is your difference.

Matthew said...

Anon 7.54
Nothing is quite as clearcut as that in Defra's costings or their data.
We do not know what they factored in.
For instance, 'farmer compensation' on Defra's TB costs stats include all the costs of getting a reactor off the farm and through abattoirs - haulage, abattoir costs, inspections and incineration, but is net of salvage.
Other species 'deaths', stack up samples sent for culture at VLA, but are not including non-cultured TB deaths, as seen by vets or VI centres.
So, as Jim Webster says, we do need an independent overview to see where this substantial difference is. Particularly as it is factored into so many cost v. benefit mathematical models.

Anonymous said...

probably the cost of disposal of the badger carcase (after a post mortem examination) - which is considered a category 3 biological hazard is part of the cost difference as well

and the level of trapping interference wsan't that high according to the ISG final report. looks like the numbers in the PQ don't account for the fact that each of the 15000 odd traps were used more than once...

Anonymous said...


The bill for stolen and damaged traps in the RBCT exceeded £350,000 and may have approached £500,000

I wrote to ACPO (Police Association) who told me to ask all the ‘participating’ police forces I was given their contact details and wrote to all as a FOI request.

Over the whole RBCT period ONLY two ‘offenders’ were arrested – there is no proof to show that either was prosecuted by Crown Prosecution Service - no doubt a political decision. Everyone in every area knew who was stealing the traps – one guy was on national TV showing how he did it !!!

Matthew said...

Up to 2003 October, cost of trashed traps was said to be £400,000 (Hansard)
All these things may have been factored in, but the difference is so great, that we need to know the input data both for the RBCT and the vax project figures.

gavin.wheeler said...

WAG estimated their cost of culling as even higher at £4220 per km2 per year, details here:

DEFRA estimated the cost of vaccination as higher than you say the BVDP is claiming: £2900 per km2 the first year £1600 thereafter. details here: (go to the end)

Would you have a link for the claim that vaccination costs only £1,440 per km2?

Matthew said...

Link is here:

Jim has extracted the cost of contractors trapping/vaccinating and marking badgers v. vets. The figures are in the cost comparison tables of having vets do the vax, v. lay contractors doing all of it. With vets, contractors would still have to lay and bait traps.

The option Defra used to justify the amendment to the Act was an annual figure of £864,000 divided by 6 areas of 100 sq km. Which gives a baseline cost of £1440.

Meconopsis said...

I am sure that the cost would be nill if Gamekeepers could just get on with the job and sort this pest out !!!!!!!

Farmers would also do the job in hand for free !

Anonymous said...

I still favour the Army for the first year.

After Iraq & Afghanistan - They won't take any crap from the so-called Conservationists

Anonymous said...

According to Farmers Guardian: "Pat Bird runs a 150-head beef herd with her husband Ken in North Cornwall that has been blighted by TB since 2001. You can find out more about Pat and her thoughts on TB on her blog."

That's this blog

Funny spelling of Matthew isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Ah! I wondered who was behind this excellent blog!

If indeed it is Pat Bird - I must congratulate her.

This blog has worked hard and stuck with the problem whilst the likes of the NFU embraced the New Labour regime - it's what the NFU does!

Thanks again - a brilliant contribution - and when the Badger TB problem has been properly addressed and the cattle slaughter has stopped - we will be able to reflect on who has done most to support the cattle farming community.

Bless you!

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

Anon 9.30

The FG blog link should take you here:

FG have lifted the last contribution to this site from Pat, but linked to the wrong place. It will be amended with the correct URL.
We have put her contributions up on this site from time to time as well. It is also linked and shares articles with and the tb in alpacas blog.
5 or 6 farmers and several vets contribute to this site.

Jim said...

This blog is just about the only place I turn to for accurate information about bovine TB, and its web address is no doubt fixed in the minds of Farmers Guardian sub-editors as well, so it's easy to imagine a busy journalist putting up the wrong link by mistake, and I certainly wouldn't jump to any conclusions about the identity of Matthew.

Whoever you are, please keep up the good work. You deserve a medal.

Anonymous said...

Whoever it is - it ain't any of the - Tossers - Bunn, Bodgett, Millipod, Bruin not forgetting the Bradshure fits Patrick duo

Thanks Matthew

Matthew said...

Anon 7.38 and Jim

On behalf of the farmers who contribute as our regional 'Matthews', our microbiologist co-editor and site builder, the vets, veterinary pathologists, ex Wildlife Unit members Wildlife Trust members and all the folks who keep us up to date with TB news from both the UK and other countries - its a thankyou from us.

Anonymous said...

No plans for NI badger cull

Written Answers 23 July 2010 Badger Cull to Prevent the Spread of Bovine TB

Mr J Shannon asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development if she has had any discussions with her counterpart in the Deparftment of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in relation to a badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine TB; and if these discussions have enabled the initiation of a cull Northern Ireland.
(AQW 7931/10)

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: I note that the new Liberal-Conservative Coalition in Britain has announced that, as part of a package of measures, they will introduce a carefully-managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB. I have not had any discussions with my counterpart in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in relation to a badger cull. I understand that decisions on the shape of the Defra package of measures have not yet been taken and that the Coalition wishes to consider all the issues carefully, including the scientific evidence, and to work out the detail of the package to ensure they get it right. They will be looking at vaccine and culling options as part of that package. They will also watch how Wales embarks on their planned badger cull whilst they finalise their own plans. I shall be very interested to see exactly what it is they propose and how it is to be funded.

My Department has a rigorous TB programme in place, approved by the EU, which includes a strand to address the wildlife factor. The ultimate aim of our TB strategy is to eradicate TB in cattle in the north of Ireland.

Interventions to address the wildlife issue may include improving biosecurity, as well as options for more direct intervention such as the vaccination of badgers, which may be the most feasible solution in the long-term though I recognise it could be some time before an effective oral badger vaccine becomes available. We plan to carry out a TB Biosecurity Study this year to assess what critical differences there are between infected and non-infected herds in a TB high incidence area in County Down.

Consideration of both selected cattle and wildlife factors will be key elements of this Study which will help inform new biosecurity advice for farmers. We are also seeking to see how other AFBI research and development projects can best contribute to the fight against TB.

To date, research involving badger culling elsewhere presents a mixed picture of its cost benefit and effectiveness in reducing disease levels in cattle. It would appear that the cost exceeds the benefit by 2-3 times. There are no plans for any cull of badgers here. As the badger is a protected species, any direct interventions in the badger population would be subject to the agreement of the Environment Minister, and also to the availability of the substantial additional funding that would be needed.

My officials will continue to maintain contact with the work that is on-going in the south of Ireland and in England to develop a viable vaccine for badgers, which can be deployed in a cost effective way. We will also track the progress of the Welsh cull as well as the delivery of the Defra package of measures in England.

Action to deal with cattle to cattle transmission of TB will also continue to be an important element of our TB strategy as we move forward.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matthew said...

Anon 4.34
(and duplicate post deleted 4.35)

As we said, it rather depends on what end result is required, as to how 'costs' are stacked.