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Badger culling is reducing TB outbreaks in cattle, study finds

A new paper has showed there was a 66 per cent drop in cattle TB incidence in the Gloucestershire intervention area after four years of culling.

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A four-year analysis into the badger cull shows the strategy is working

A long-awaited look into the effect of the badger cull in England’s original cull zones has proved the method is significantly reducing the number of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) breakdowns in cattle.

 

A new paper by Nature Research, published in Scientific Reports today (October 11), showed there was a 66 per cent drop in cattle TB incidence in the Gloucestershire intervention area after four years of culling.

 

There was also a 37 per cent fall in new TB breakdowns in Somerset.

 

Authors of the report said the reductions were ‘statistically significant’.


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Cheshire dairy farmer Phil Latham said: “If you are going to be science-led, the evidence from this analysis of four years of data is that the strategy works.

 

“We should hang our hat on it and be confident that we are doing the right thing.

 

“That is entirely different to the illusion of badger vaccination for which there is no evidence whatsoever that vaccinating a limited number of badgers would reduce TB in cattle.”

 

He added the evidence went against conservation charity Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) suggestion that culling would make the problem worse due to the perturbation effect.

 

Effect

The next steps would be to determine how to maintain the reduced badger population density, he said.

 

“That is something that needs public acceptance about what the right strategy is,” Mr Latham added.

 

Gloucestershire vet Roger Blowey, who has been TB testing cattle for 50 years, said the data highlighted how important it was to look at TB incidence over long periods of time ‘to find any real effect’.

 

He said: “Using a combination of cattle and wildlife controls, TB was almost eradicated from the UK in the 1980s – down to less than 100 herds affected and less than 300 reactors per year.

“Since then the disease has been allowed to get hopelessly out of control. No other country has eradicated TB without addressing both cattle and wildlife reserves.

 

“This is yet another trial showing so clearly that the UK is no different.”

 

Defra aims to achieve Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status for England by 2038.

 

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said the study should signal the end of the debate ‘that keeps giving a false equivalence between vaccination and culling as a strategy to reduce infection in cattle’.

He said: “When this strategy began, opponents to it cited estimates that wildlife control would only deliver reductions of 16 per cent in TB outbreaks in cattle, at best.

 

“It is clear from this peer-reviewed evidence that they were wrong.

 

“Not only is there no evidence of increased incidence rates of TB in buffer areas, including no perturbation, the research reinforces the Chief Vet’s view that proactive wildlife control forms a central part of a strategy to tackle the disease.”

The situation in Wales:

NFU Cymru said it was using the evidence to call on Welsh Government to urgently reconsider its TB eradication programme after repeatedly ruling out an English-style approach.

 

President John Davies said: “Of course this new evidence will only add to the extreme frustration and anger that Welsh farmers are feeling about the inadequacies of the current Welsh Government bovine TB eradication programme.

 

“It is essential that lessons are learned from the way the Westminster Government has implemented its bovine TB eradication plan in England.

 

“This new evidence shows that the only way forward in eradicating this horrific disease here in Wales, is for Welsh Government to recognise that robust controls to tackle the reservoir of disease in the wildlife population need to be employed.”

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