Saturday, December 08, 2012

Dear Secretary of State....

Below are the thoughts of an former Defra Wildlife Unit manager, who we have quoted before on this site. This is a copy of his recent letter to the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP,  Secretary of State, DEFRA.

As the ex-Defra Field Manager running the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) in the South West, I feel well qualified to make recommendations as to the best way forward if a cull is to be acceptable by the general public, including the Badger Trust and its many allies. Firstly, unless land owners are convinced that only, and I mean only, infected badgers are being removed from their land they will never participate in any trial willingly.

I had the task of visiting all those who refused to participate in the RBCT. The common theme was – "unless my badgers are infected you can’t touch them." No amount of cajoling would change their stance.

In February 2010, I met with a minister and other interested parties at the Enigma Diagnostics HQ in Porton Down. There we discussed the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology as a way forward in combating the disease. We were all  totally sold on the idea as it would keep all factions happy if it were introduced. Sadly, since then, the idea seems to have fizzled out for whatever reasons. It is now time to resurrect that interest and to introduce it, on a trial basis, as a way forward in combating the disease.

As an aside, we were then told that in 2010, there wasn’t enough time to undertake PCR trials as the farming industry wouldn’t entertain the idea of waiting for a solution. They were after a “quick fix”. Here we are, 30 months later, still without an effective tool to combat bovine TB !  How ironic !

I understand that Warwick University have been working on PCR technology for some time with increasingly encouraging results. Surely, by cage trapping badgers, testing their blood/sputum/urine/faeces using PCR, backed up by a blood test, we would have a viable live time, in-field test that could be rolled out fairly quickly? Reactor and field mapping, such as was used in previous culling operations could closer target the use of PCR on infected setts.

Imagine being able to identify the infected badgers and removing them from the countryside, combined with the vaccination of “clean” badgers before releasing them back into the wild – what a way forward for all concerned !

I was involved in the Live Testing trials  (of badgers) in 1994/5. The test was dropped as it wasn’t accurate enough to move forward with. When we did find infected badgers we culled them and all the occupants of the setts they came from. Using PCR would facilitate similar action being taken.

You may be aware that the  Alpaca TB Support Group  have already commissioned the trial use of PCR technology on dead alpacas, diagnosed by postmortem and culture with tuberculosis? Their results to date have been more than encouraging, with an over 80% detection rate. The second phase results on animals with less advanced lesions, are also encouraging. If this small group can do such a trial on a shoestring budget, surely a larger project, publicly funded, could be trialled using badgers instead of alpacas ?  If Public funding wasn’t available, levy a TB tax on every animal passing through our livestock markets to raise enough cash to fund it.

DEFRA will never win over the general public with a mass cull of badgers. The fact that 84% of those which we were able to trap and cull during the RBCT were on postmortem, not lesioned, is too fresh in their minds and will always be used as ammunition to fight any 'area' type cull. If you really want to win the public over, go down the PCR route combined with vaccination. Do not let FERA or DEFRA deliver the trials as they can be done more cheaply and efficiently using Contractors. To me it is a no brainer !

I am always happy to input my thoughts into any trial that may occur in the future, in the best interests of farmers, badger lovers and the general public.

Yours sincerely

Paul Caruana
Ex-Defra Field Manager (Polwhele)
Paul is now a director of Field Services South West Ltd.,

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