The Bovine TB Debate

Chief Veterinary Officer replies to our Challenge

Our Response

PROFESSOR Gibbens’ letter dodges most of the key issues which we and other expert bodies like the Badger Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the Zoological Society of London have raised:

Crucially there is as yet no evidence that the recent culls, beset by problems, have reduced bovine TB. Government claims to the contrary are based on assumption and speculation — political “spin”.

Achieving TB-free status in half the country will be the result of overdue cattle measures, NOT badger culling. Calculations about badger numbers have been shown to be unreliable and over-stated, invalidating claims that the cull targets have a science base.

A major weakness in the Government’s bovine TB control plan is the unreliability of the skin test. The Government’s own consultation document admits that “a substantial proportion of herds have residual infection left in the herd” at the stage when they are given the all clear.

It admits: up to 21 per cent of herds could be harbouring at least one infected animal when movement restrictions are lifted… and “up to 50 percent of recurrent breakdowns could be attributed to infection missed by the skin test.” Those admissions are critical and damning and once again point to the root of the bTB problem—cattle!

The widespread practice of farmers buying “blind” at markets is, admits the Government, “a well established” form of market failure which can have a direct impact on disease spread. We ask again: why is it allowed to continue? Making bTB history information available to buyers would alert them to the risks of importing bTB.

But it doesn’t happen.

Critics of the badger culling programme point out that much of it is carried out on farms which have no cattle and no bTB.

Attempting to justify wildlife killing the Government repeatedly refers to a comprehensive cattle and wildlife control package in Australia. The wildlife in question? Water buffalo!

The Government always underlines the importance of biosecurity (disease prevention) measures on farms. But doesn’t enforce them and farmers still receive compensation whether or not they put measures in place. Is that fair or sensible? We say it isn’t.

TB is rife in the wild and farmed deer population. But it’s left to private deer stalkers to submit suspect samples. Again, is that satisfactory? No. It’s another weak link in what is supposed to be a comprehensive disease control strategy.

In its response to the Government’s consultation on badger culling the Zoological Society of London raised these and many other issues. In a highly critical appraisal, it reflected on the Government’s inability to judge success, its difficulties accurately assessing badger numbers and the unplanned and scientifically invalid changes to its culling programme.

Scathingly it dismissed Government claims that the culls were working, saying “...there is thus so far no evidence of any disease control benefits”. We agree and we’ll continue defending our much persecuted badgers as best we can.

Letter from DEFRA's Chief Veterinary Officer