‘Less than 6% of cattle TB infections from badgers’ claim as cull continues

Support us and go ad-free

Both opponents and supporters of the government’s badger cull are claiming that new research findings strengthen their case.

A study by government scientists suggests that rates of tuberculosis in cattle fell in areas where the farming industry has carried out culling of badgers. Meanwhile, another research project found that the cull is causing badgers to disperse in a way that could be making the TB problem worse.

And one of the country’s leading experts says new analysis of historic data showed that less than 6% of cattle infections had come from badgers. Professor Lord John Krebs said: “killing badgers is probably a distraction from the main story”.

The government research found a significant decrease in the incidence of cattle TB in Gloucestershire, of 66%, and 37% in Somerset, after four years of culling up to 2017, compared to areas where no culling took place.

But analysis of the first three areas where the policy to cull badgers to tackle TB in cattle was implemented, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found no reduction in the incidence of the disease in Dorset after two years of culling.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Researchers also said they saw decreases in the incidence of TB in livestock in the “buffer zones” around the culling areas in Gloucestershire and Dorset, which was unexpected as previous research had suggested there would be an increase outside the cull zone as infected badgers roamed around more.

The study found “industry-led culling was associated with reductions in cattle TB incidence rates after four years but there were variations in effects between areas”.

The study’s authors also raised the possibility that other factors associated  with the granting of culling licences, such as greater biosecurity efforts to prevent spread, may have played a role in reducing the risk of TB.

A controversial badger cull was first introduced in 2013, and has now been rolled out to 40 areas across England in a bid to tackle TB in cattle, which can contract the disease from the wild animals.

The National Farmers’ Union, which reported 33,000 cattle were killed last year because of the disease, said the research “definitively shows the phenomenal impact culling badgers has on reducing TB levels in cattle”.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “Controlling the disease in wildlife is a crucial element to tackling this devastating disease, alongside a range of measures such as enhanced biosecurity and strengthening cattle movement controls.

“On such a strong scientific basis, it is absolutely vital that the Government’s strategy is continued in order to see reductions in all areas where TB is endemic.”

Experts said the findings were consistent with the results from a previous large-scale study, the 10-year randomised badger culling trials (RBCT).

Krebs, who conducted a major review into badgers and bovine TB in the 1990s and recommended the RBCT cull, said: “The farmer-led culls are not set up as a proper experiment and therefore one cannot be sure of the interpretation of the results.”

He said the authors of the study also report that more recent analysis of the RBCT found that less than 6% of cattle infections came from badgers.

“All the recent scientific evidence points to a central role of cattle-to-cattle transmission, and focusing on killing badgers is probably a distraction from the main story,” he said.

Commenting on the other study, Krebs said:

This research shows how important it is to find out about badger behaviour. It shows that culling badgers can cause surviving individuals in an area to move around more, and as a result they could come into contact with infected cattle and help to spread TB.

The ill-thought out plan to control TB by killing badgers could therefore backfire.

Professor Rosie Woodroffe, from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who has conducted research into badger culling and TB, said: “The question remains as to whether culling is a cost-effective tool in the fight to eradicate bovine TB.

“This study suggests that culling is not working consistently across all TB-affected areas of England.”

She said more recent results from autumn 2018 suggested a recent upswing in cattle TB in Gloucestershire, and repeating the analysis on more recent data would be expected to show weaker impacts of culling.

And she said there was a need for a side-by-side comparison of badger vaccination against culling, as vaccines were “cheaper, more humane and less environmentally damaging” and could be a more effective tool to tackle TB.

Featured image and additional reporting by Press Association

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us