Friday, October 19, 2018

Badger cull is only way forward

July 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Clodhopper


No-one wants to cull badgers to combat bovine TB in cattle, says Clodhopper. But a cull must go ahead if we are to control the disease.

Badger culling to control bovine TB is not something that has really concerned me in the past. Apart from one isolated incident many years ago, when the combine nearly fell into the ditch, my only sighting of a badger was a dead one on the roadside.

Being virtually livestock free, farmers in this part of the world have no real reason to fear the badger. But it is a whole different story in Somerset or Gloucestershire – where a badger cull is due to take place this summer.

The reason for the cull? To find out whether shooting badgers to combat bovine TB in cattle can be carried out safely, humanely and effectively. Culling these ‘Wind in the Willows’ animals is not about wiping them out. It is about reducing TB in areas where it has reached endemic levels.

Should farmers in other parts of the country be interested in what is going on? Yes, I believe they should. More than 38,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered in Great britain because of bovine TB last year. And the cull aims to stop the disease from spreading further.

Decent farmers are trying to play their part. New rules introduced in January 2013 as part of the government eradication plans alongside additional cattle controls will all help. And the experience in Ireland shows that TB can be reduced if all sides of the disease are tackled.

Between 4-5000 badgers are due to be culled over the next seven months. Is it a price worth paying? So far the cost of bovine TB to the taxpayer over the last 10 years has reached £500m. This figure could easily double in the next decade.

A vaccine for cattle is not forthcoming and farmers cannot wait. We need action now. Most farmers do not want to kill badgers. In fact, nobody does. But scientific evidence tells us that the problem cannot be eradicated until TB infection is addressed in wildlife as well as cattle.

Culling is the latest scheme used in an effort to control the disease. Gassing was used in the 1970s, catching and testing live badgers was carried out in the 1990s and a nine year culling trial ended in 2007. What is so depressing is that successive governments have failed to address the problem.

Some farms have had trouble with TB three out of the past four years. Farms that are now clear accept that all it takes is one visiting badger for infection to start again. The NFU suggests each outbreak costs average farmer £34,000 in lost income. I suspect it might be even more.

Australia and New Zealand have both taken steps to contain TB by culling infected animals. Yet culling remains controversial here, despite some polls suggesting only 34% of people oppose a badger cull, with the remainder either not having a view or not caring.

Animal rights protesters claim there is no scientific evidence that killing badgers will stop the spread of bovine TB. They argue that killing large numbers of badgers will only bring in more disease, as infected animals move into cleared areas.

Of course, bboth sides would prefer vaccination. But with the cost working out at £600+ for each badger, the figures simply do not stack up. The issue of vaccination is fraught with other problems too because it is hard for tests to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals.

The forthcoming cull then may well be the answer. But our cause has not been helped by rogue farmers flouting strict controls aimed at preventing TB being spread between cattle, including livestock producer who failed to test cattle before moving them.

Another incident involved a cattle dealer moving cattle while under a TB blockade. Without condoning such actions – after all, cattle movement controls are an important part of the TB eradication plan – the frustration at not being able to move cattle is understandable.

It must be absolutely soul-destroying having to stand aside while your dairy herd is slaughtered due to bovine TB. Let alone seeing empty sheds afterwards prior to cleaning and disinfecting them. The mind must focus on what has gone and not the replacement cows arriving.

And where do you source cattle with a clear TB history? Increasingly, the answer may be aboard. Talk suggests more cattle are coming into the UK from countries where farmers are amazed that cows here are slaughtered while badgers are allowed to roam free.

I for one, wish the cull every success. It isn’t an option anyone would choose, but I for one believe it must go ahead. And I am glad my farming career has mostely been in the arable sector.

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