Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Quotes of the year

As 2011 draws to a close, several people have had their say about badgers, TB the proposed cull and much more. Below are a few snippets.

From Jeremy Clarkson in the The Sun [sorry, no online link] a comment on the cost of Jim Paice's proposed cull, using a protocol described by Natural England. While he admits it is 'safer' not to get bogged down on rights or wrongs of culling badgers, Mr. Clarkson explains that he doesn't understand the numbers being bandied about...
" It's been suggested that the cost of culling 100,000 badgers over the next eight years will be £92m. That works out at £920 per badger. I'm sorry but what are they going to use? Golden bullet? Hellfire missiles? Apache gunships? That's the trouble with modern government. It trots out these big numbers without ever pausing for rational thought".
You get to that figure quite easily on the 150 sq km blocks as well Mr. Clarkson. Divide Mr. Paice's £1.38m per patch by Natural England's maximum number of badgers culled of 1500 - and bingo. That £920 pops up again. But if only 1000 (NE's lower figure) are culled, the per head cost rises to £1,380. The NFU are quoting a few £ per head at meetings to drum up support - but the distance between the two is enormous and deserves further exploration.

Still on the subject of cost, in The Daily Wail last Saturday was a comment on the cost of moving a badger sett. It was pointed out that the animal in question could dig another home quite quickly and the quoted figure of £180,000 would fund the creature a council flat. Quite so.

When the proposals outlined by Natural England were published in August, we drew your attention to the main document and its many annexes in this post. Later that week, former SW regional director of the NFU, Anthony Gibson published his overview of the proposals in the Western Morning News. With a strapline "Badger cull rules must change to be workable," Mr. Gibson commented :
It is hard to say whether it is the cost of what is proposed, or the regulatory burden which it will involve, which evokes the greater degree of concern. But if you put one together with the other, it will be a very brave and very determined group of farmers which signs a "TB Management Agreement" with Natural England.

The bureaucracy associated with such agreements will be formidable, if anything like the measures proposed in the consultation are finally agreed. I don't have the space to go into any great detail, but you will find it all at which should be required reading – including the annexes – for anyone planning to get involved.
In this piece, Anthony went on to say that:
Unless these proposals are radically altered in the consultation process – particularly in terms of reducing the financial and other risks to participants – I find it hard to envisage a badger-culling licence ever being issued.
and he concluded
The only consolations I can offer are, first, that the principle of a badger cull has been conceded, and that could be crucial to TB control when sanity is restored; and second, that a bad cull could very easily be worse in all sorts of ways than no cull at all.
So have the costs been reduced? Bureaucracy loosened or protocol simplified? We don't think so, but others are now starting to question whether this is yet another 'designed to fail' exercise.

In Farmers Guardian last week, Jim Paice explained why a cull was necessary.
“The science is not simple. But scientists agree that, if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified through the randomised badger culling trial, we can expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 sq km area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16% over nine years, relative to a similar unculled area. That was based on trapping and shooting. Our judgement is that farmers can be trusted to deliver a similar result by controlled shooting
Our judgement is that Animal Health have abandoned their responsibility on this issue, preferring to dumb down overspill, test cattle to distraction yet still hang on to the coat tails of the worst bit of 'science' we have had the misfortune to be caught up in.

Predictably the Badger Trust, RSPCA and assorted followers are frothing at the mouth, with the Humane Society launching a broadside at the Bern convention on the following grounds :
The Government claims a badger slaughter will prevent livestock damage by reducing the spread of bTB. However, the proportion of cases of bTB in cattle attributable to badgers is very small and the Government itself admits that the slaughter is likely only to achieve a 12-16 per cent reduction in bovine TB cases in cattle after 9 years.
The Government has given insufficient consideration to alternative non-lethal solutions including cattle movement/testing controls and the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle. The Convention should not allow a slaughter of badgers in preference to alternative options such as stricter cattle movement controls, which have a potentially greater chance of reducing the spread of bTB, solely because it is more convenient for farmers.
Amazing how they talk of a 'massacre' of tuberculous badgers, but imply 'damage' to cattle and 'inconvenience' to farmers? Can't really get our collective heads around that one.

We do however see a distinct stumbling block in that mathematically modelled 12 - 16 per cent alleged benefit. It is farcical and Defra know it. Thornbury achieved 100 percent and even Professor Krebbs when he formulated his original protocol for the RBCT (before it became politicised ) had this to say about past culling strategies and their results : (p126)
7.8.3 The gassing and clean ring strategies, in effect, eliminated or severely reduced badger populations from an area and appear to have had the effect of reducing or eliminating TB in local cattle populations. The effect lasted for many years after the cessation of culling, but eventually TB returned.

7.8.4 The interim strategy, introduced following the Dunnet report, is not likely to be effective in reducing badger-related incidence of TB in cattle for the following reasons:

i) The policy involves removing badgers from a limited area (the reactor land or the entire farm suffering the herd breakdown if the former cannot be identified) ; but social groups of badgers may occupy several setts covering more than one farm.

(ii) Partial removal of groups could exacerbate the spread of TB by peturbation of the social structure and increased movement of badgers.

(iii) There is no attempt to prevent recolonisation by badgers of potentially infected setts; even if infectivety in the setts is not a problem, immigrant badgers may bring new infection.

In addition, the current operation of the interim strategy involves a delay (27 weeks in 1995) to the start of the removal. The average period from the herd breakdown to the completion of the removal was 41 weeks in 1995.

7.8.5 In common with the clean ring strategy and the live test trial, the effectiveness of the interim strategy is further undermined by the failure to remove lactating sows which may also be infected. We recognise that culling lactating sows has a welfare cost in terms of cubs left in setts, but this needs to be balanced against wider animal health and welfare considerations for both cattle and badgers.
All the great and the good who pontificate from a distance on the insidious spread of this disease, and the many who glean employment from it, know what Krebbs knew in 1996 and what his predecessors Professors Dunnet and Zucherman knew.

They knew it then, they know it now and yet they will do nothing to address the situation at all except cook up the most complicated divisive strategy imaginable - and expect farmers to carry the cost.

A Happy New Year.

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