Badger Culling or Vaccination to solve a disease problem in cattle?

As far back as 2008 Professor Christl Donnelly ( published an artle about the effects of culling or vaccinating badgers and how this might affect the levels of bovine TB infections in cattle.The article appeared in the Journal of Applied Ecology – a peer-reviewed scientific journal. For those of you who might like to read it in full, you can get all the detail from :

A summary of the article suggests two important things:

  •  culling badgers causes them to alter their social structure and their ranging behaviour, with the risk that there could be new or additional contacts between badgers and cattle, potentially increasing TB infection rates. In other words, the perturbation hypothesis, as to why culling badgers can make bovine TB worse in cattle.
  • vaccinating badgers so they do not get bovine TB infections (from cattle or other species), does not disturb their social hierarchy or their ranging behaviour. In other words, vaccinating badgers reduces the density of infectious badgers, without affecting their behaviour.

So far as we are concerned, given a choice between either culling or vaccinating, the choice should be to vaccinate; as this improves the situation for badgers; and reduces the risks for cattle. There is also the benefit, that there is less TB in the environment to affect other wildlife species. In these troubled times, there will be much less need for a visible police presence in the badger killing areas; as most animal rights extremists would not be getting involved in violence to stop a vaccination scheme. Likewise peaceful protesters may be more inclined to buy from farms and businesses in cull areas; rather than boycotting them.

Anyway, coming back to the report, Professor Donnelly is some-one who has an awesome knowledge of both badgers AND in the transmission of infectious diseases. She was also a key member of the panel which managed the science surrounding the RBCT (aka the £50 million Krebs badger killing experiment). And, she is a Professor at Imperial College – one of the world’s leading scientific institutions. She is undoutedly one of the key people whose opinions and advice should be sought, listened to and relied upon by policy makers. Just to remind everyone, the whole RBCT TEAM stated that culling badgers is NOT effective in controlling bovine TB in cattle.

Coming up towards the end of June 2012, is a court case, in which the Badger Trust are seeking judicial review of DEFRAs decision to cull badgers across wide areas of England. The Badger Trust say the three stooges who run DEFRA  (farmer Caroline Spelman, farmer Jim Paice and farmer Richard Benyon), have got the science wrong. The NFU (National Farmers Union) seem to be getting sick and tired of DEFRA not removing the Protection of Badgers Act; and want to kill badgers using any excuse they can come up with. Of course, killing 25,000 cattle every year due to the policy details surrounding bovine TB, is a disaster for them and for farm incomes; and for hard-done-to taxpayers who compensate farmers and agri-businesses who keep finding themselves with bTB infections. But, 250,000 cattle die before they should, due to other preventable conditions, such as BVD, lameness and so on. Bovine TB is bad for a farmer, and it’s not the only disease they farmers should be worried about; but it the only one they can scapegoat badgers for.

The NFU are clearly so worried that farmers will not want to get involved in killing thousands of badgers that they have already said they will effectively bankroll the badger culling campaign. They are clearly worried that their “agents” in DEFRA will lose the court case on the grounds that it is not economic or that the non-peer-reviewed NFU “science” will not hold up to critical review.

Indeed, Peter Kendall, president of the NFU has already been doing the rounds slagging off “so called experts with PhD’s” – don’t know whether he thinking of Professor Donnelly or Dr Brian May or some-one else. No matter, Professor Donnelly has been called as a witness at the court case; where she could be asked about whether badger culling will do the things the NFU want or whether a badger cull will make no real difference. We can’t yet know the detail what she will be asked, or what she will reply, or indeed whether the judge will have enough of a scientific background to be able to understand the science and hopefully come to the conclusion that vaccination would always be better than culling.

What does seem likely is that Professor Donnelly has the potential to be a key scientific witness; whose influence on the outcome of the case will be immense. As for Peter Kendall, he has been so obsessed with killing badgers, he refuses to think about any Plan B. If the NFU “lose”, the NFU should metaphorically do to him what they want to do to badgers. In our view, he is the latest of the NFU leaders to fail their members. If DEFRA lose, the only way forward for the three farmers who are currently running the show has to be a swift and decisive return to back benches; where they would have ample time to contemplate how they have all continued to let down enviromentalists, farmers and all of us who are involved in some small way in rural affairs.

It’s going to be an interesting court case, that’s for sure…

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