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Evidence Stacks Up Against Badger Cull

Defra Admits Only 6% of New TB Outbreaks Caused By Badgers, While TB Rates Continue to Drop Outside Cull Zones

Continuing reductions in the rate of bovine TB (bTB) in the south west of England – outside the badger cull zones – have been revealed, alongside a bombshell from Defra’s Chief Scientist who admitted this week that research says only 6% of new bTB outbreaks come directly from badgers.

Badger

At a TB conference hosted by the National Farmers’ Union on Monday, Ian Boyd told farmers in no uncertain terms that it is cattle, not badgers, which are the key cause of the spread of bovine TB. To a hostile audience, he quoted from Imperial College research that says only 5.7% of TB infections in cattle were as a result of direct infection from badgers.

He also stated that bovine TB will never be completely eradicated and that more regular testing, improved TB tests and tighter movement controls were key to reducing the spread of the disease.

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said “We welcome the DEFRA Chief Scientist’s statements at the NFU TB conference. Despite the howls of protest from some in the audience, it was absolutely critical that he laid the finger of blame for a majority of TB transmissions at cattle and not badgers.

“It’s a great shame it has taken Ian Boyd four and a half years to accept the inconvenient truth. For too long he was willing to put politics above science and play the badger blame game. This has resulted in tens of millions of pounds of public money being wasted on a disastrous badger cull which has failed on scientific and humaneness grounds. Hopefully this means that at last the Government is moving its focus to the livestock industry where the long term solution to bovine TB reduction lies, rather than the pointless destruction of our precious wildlife.”

New bTB figures are also showing evidence that a focus on cattle, not badgers, is the way to beat the disease. Most of the West region of England was moved to annual and pre-movement testing in 2010/11 – a policy which tends to lead to an initial spike in the number of animals slaughtered for TB, as more are found to be carrying the disease due to increased testing, but then a drop in the figures as the benefit of removing the sick animals kicks in.

Figures show:

• A drop of 12% in the number of bTB cattle slaughtered in the West Region from 2012 to 2013 (prior to the badger culls taking place)
• A drop of 14% in the same area between Jan and August 2014

The West Region covers the whole of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Avon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcs, Warwickshire, West Midlands and the Isles of Scilly.

Meanwhile in Wales, where the focus has been on cattle measures, not badger culling, for five years, bTB rates continue to fall:

• The number of new herd incidents (39) reported this month is the lowest ever recorded in any month since 2008.
• The number of cattle slaughtered (264) this month is the lowest ever recorded in any month since 2008.

Dominic Dyer added: “These reductions clearly show that an increased testing intensity is working in removing infected animals and reducing the rate of onward transmission and new infections. While everyone has been focussing on badger culling, they’ve missed the fact that over the last 20 months there has been an increasing decline in the disease in the West Region.

“The UK government seemed reluctant to bring in more frequent and better testing in England, but it’s clearly paying off. While we need to be careful of making short-term judgements based on statistics, the drop in bTB rates in the West is becoming clear, as it’s been happening for 20 months, not just this year as is being claimed. The focus on cattle, as is also being shown dramatically in Wales, is paying off, and that’s where we must continue to put our focus.

“Any claim that the badger cull is having an impact on these figures cannot be taken seriously, as the cull zones are a tiny part of the whole area. The NFU has dismissed claims that the vaccination of badgers in Wales has had an impact on the reduction of TB rates there, because the area is too small, and it’s too soon for it to have had an impact. Exactly the same goes for the cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire – any impact on bTB will not be shown in these figures – this is a success of cattle-based measures, pure and simple.”

After Ian Boyd’s statement on Monday, the NFU have called for the management of bTB to be taken out of the political arena, with an independent body in charge of the policy. Dominic Dyer said:

“We agree that the UK’s bTB policy should be non-political, but it’s ironic that the NFU are calling for this now that the government seem to be disagreeing with them. We’ve said all along that beating TB must be based on science, not on politics. But bTB policy impacts on a lot of people, not just farmers – a case in point is the £10 million price tag to the tax payer for the 2013 cull. So anyone making the decisions should be accountable to the British public.”

Another public protest against the badger cull, the 27th since last year, is taking place in Winchester this Saturday.

For a full breakdown and report on the most recent figures, see below:

Decline in Bovine TB slaughter figures for the West Region of England:

2012 to 2013 and 2013 to 2014

Changes in cattle slaughtered in the West Region of England between 2012 to 2013 and Jan to Aug 2013 to Jan to Aug 2014, including breakdown into key counties

1          Decline in the number of cattle slaughtered in the West Region between 2012 and 2013

Table 1

  2012 2013 % change
West Region total bTB cattle slaughtered 20,701 18,306 down 12%

 

2          Decline in the number of cattle slaughtered in the West Region continuing in  2014: data published to date

Table 2

  Jan to Aug 2013 Jan to Aug 2014 % change
West Region total bTB cattle slaughtered 12,554 10,749 down 14.38%

 

This decline is unlikely to be due to the badger culls because the West Region covers the whole of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Avon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcs, Warwickshire and West Midlands. Also the culling in late 2013 would not have made any contribution to the 2013 figures. Re the figures for 2014 the geographical area where culling is taking place is very small compared to the total region.

 

3          Changes in West Region counties between 2012 and 2013

The following table shows the number of bTB cattle slaughtered for the main counties in the West Region between 2012 and 2013. Most counties showing a decline apart from Somerset and Avon

Table 3

County

 

2012

 

2013

 

% change

 

Avon 1,052 1,099 up 4%
Dorset  1,192    901 down 24.41%
Devon 6,536 5,343 down 18,25%
Cornwall 3,257 2,700 down 17%
Gloucestershire 1,930 1,631 down 15.49%
Hereford & Worcester 3,198 2,622 down 18%
Somerset 2,014 2,629 up 31%
Wiltshire 1,138 1,164 down 13%

 

4          Changes in bTB cattle slaughtered in the West Region main counties between January to August 2013 compared with January to August 2014

Table 4

County

 

Jan to Aug 2013

 

Jan to Aug 2014

 

% change

 

Avon    734    880 up 19.89%
Dorset            664    520 down 21.69%
Devon 3,615 3,793 up 4.92%
Cornwall 1,832 1,648 down 10.04%
Gloucestershire    969    762 down 21.36%
Hereford & Worcester 1,774     1,174 down 33.82%
Somerset 1.996    914 down 54.21%
Wiltshire    811    831 up 2.47%

 

Most counties show a continuing decline apart from slight increases in Devon and Wiltshire. The increase in Avon, although a larger percentage, is actually for a fairly small number of animals. These increases may be due an increased amount of testing, or to the greater use of gamma interferon testing in these areas. Note also the major decline in Somerset of 54.21%. The decline in Somerset is not due to less testing as testing has increased in Somerset between the 2 time periods from 350,066 tests between Jan to Aug 2013 up to 370,951 tests between Jan to Aug 2014, an increase of 20,885 tests.

The reduction in cattle slaughtered in Somerset in 2014 may reflect a greater intensity of testing being applied in earlier years, which also led to last year’s increase in cattle slaughtered in the county, subsequently leading to the reduction in disease presence and thus a greater fall off in disease this year. Hereford and Worcester also shows a further marked decline in 2014 and Gloucestershire has also increased the rate of decline in 2014.

 

5          North and East Regions of England

As some of the Counties within these areas have only recently come under annual and pre-movement testing, with the extension of the High Risk and Edge Areas in 2013, they are showing some increases in the number of cattle slaughtered, though the actual numbers of cattle culled remains relatively small. As these areas were previously under 2, 3 and 4 yearly testing it is expected that the number of cattle slaughtered would increase as testing moves to a higher intensity and more infection is identified.

5.1       Increase in number of bTB total cattle slaughtered between 2012 and 2013 in           the North and East regions of England

Table 6

Regions of England total cattle slaughtered 2012 2013 % change
North Region 5,896 6,432 up 9.09%
East Region 1,689 1,865 up 10.42%

 

5.2       Increase in number of bTB total cattle slaughtered between January to August        2013 compared with January to August 2014

Table 6

Regions of England total cattle slaughtered Jan to Aug 2013 Jan to Aug 201 % change
North Region 4,430 5,057 up 14.15%
East Region 1,127 1,246 up 10.56%

 

 

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