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
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.