Don't blame the badgers

I HAVE been struggling like, I suspect, many others to get a clear picture of what is really going on in the ‘cow vs badger’ bovine TB debate.

The categorisation by some of badgers as ‘vermin’ doesn’t help the debate. That word is used as a label to attach to things that are inconvenient for the speaker and is essentially meaningless. It is even used by some people to describe human beings that don’t conform to their view of what is acceptable.

It seems that the proposed badger cull will go ahead despite the fact that DEFRA’s own report concluded that badger culling has no part to play in the eradication of bovine TB. The 1998 Bourne Report determined that while badgers were a source of TB in cattle, culling would make no meaningful contribution to the control of the disease in the UK and might even make matters worse, as badgers displaced by the cull move to other territories. A National Academy of Sciences publication in the USA concluded that it was the cows that were infecting the badgers, not vice versa.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT, also known as the Krebs trial) – a vast UK study over five years – saw 11,000 badgers killed in the quest to discover whether culling could be an effective control strategy. They concluded that reactive culling – killing badgers when there was a TB outbreak – made things worse. Proactive culling – eradicating them from areas largely without TB – made things better inside the cull zone, but worse outside.

The facts are simple. Cows are routinely confined in barns in close proximity to each other for months on end. They are also transported all over the country in lorries. Cows can carry the disease for around four years before they become infectious.

Surely it is better to pay the cost of better animal husbandry and vaccination rather than spend £60 million compensating farmers for dead cows and blaming badgers.

And yes badgers can carry the disease; but so too do rats and deer.

But deer are a resource for some farmers and rats are simply impossible to eradicate in sufficient numbers to have any discernible effect. So the badgers cop it.

The farming lobby is powerful and they believe it is all the badgers’ fault, despite weighty evidence to the contrary.

If we farmed badgers and not cows – the cows would be to blame.

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