Friday, 31 May 2013

The Badger Cull - What You Need to Know

"I can’t understand how anybody who’s looked at the science would say this is a good idea”
– Professor John Krebs, architect of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial

Unless you’ve been living in a sett for the last year, you have probably heard a lot of talk about the proposed badger cull, which will begin in the Taunton Deane area of West Somerset and around Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire (and potentially in Dorset) on 1st June 2013. After many months of reading, protesting, letter writing and conversing with scientists and animal rights activists, I have attempted to condense all of the available information into one readable article, complete with references for those that want to dig a little deeper into the issue. And so today, on the eve the cull, I present the case against this sick, unscientific, undemocratic and unjust crime against nature...

What's the problem?

Badgers, like many other wild animals, carry Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB). The disease can be passed between wild animals and cattle, and from cattle to wild animals. In 2011, approximately 26,000 cattle were slaughtered due to BTB1 - there is no denying that this disease impacts on the livelihood of cattle farmers. Government compensation per cow ranges from £98 to £4,9132 depending on the age, breed and sex of the cow – and that's your taxes, if you pay them. Understandably, many farmers are concerned that having badgers on their land is a major threat to their herd and their business. Eradication of badgers therefore at first glance seems like a logical method of preventing the spread of Bovine TB, and a harsh, but necessary, measure if we are to continue dairy farming in this country. However, things are not so straightforward.

Is bTB the biggest threat to cattle?

Given the coverage in the media, you would be forgiven for thinking that bTB was the biggest threat to cattle, however bTB is far from being the biggest reason for slaughtering dairy cattle in Britain. In 2011, mastitis accounted for 17.54%, lameness accounted for 9.36%, old age accounted for 6.39%, calving injury accounted for 4.41%, accidents and trauma accounted for 4.38%, and all infectious diseases accounted for just 3.23% of slaughtered cattle3. The elephant in the room is that diseases such as mastitis and lameness kill far more cattle than bTB, with mastitis costing the dairy industry in excess of £168 million a year4.

How is TB transmitted?

The exact route of transmission between badgers and cattle has not been proven. As David Williams, Chair of The Badger Trust put it - “Until the science is clear, we should not be making the badger a scapegoat. Remember DDT, myxomatosis and Thalidomide. We thought we knew that these were scientific certainties but they were disastrous. We should be wary for the future”5.

Cattle are herd dwelling animals that live closely together, and are generally kept in enclosures (fields, barns, etc.) and therefore spread of bTB between cattle is quick. In 2005, scientists at Oxford University found that cattle-to-cattle transmissions of bTB “consistently outperform environmental, topographic and other anthropogenic variables as the main predictor of disease occurrence”6. Cattle catch the disease from breathing in air from the lungs of other cattle, particularly in poorly-ventilated spaces such as barns. The disease may be brought into the herd from new cows, shared breeding bulls and coming into contact with infected cows at markets and shows7. Cows are, of course, tested for bTB - however DEFRA estimates that the test only detects around 80% of infected cattle8. Furthermore, a team from Liverpool University has found that the presence of a common fluke that parasitises the liver of cattle can reduce the chances of TB being detected by the test9. This fluke has increased dramatically in numbers over the last 15 years, the same period that has seen a large increase in incidences of TB in cattle.

Direct interactions between cattle and badgers are very rare10. It is thought that TB is transmitted from badgers to cattle primarily via urine and dung left in fields, and laboratory studies have shown that cattle can catch the disease from infected badgers under controlled conditions, albeit in an enclosed environment. Testing for infected setts has around a 40-50% success rate, and therefore only targeting infected setts would be expensive and unreliable11.

In a stable and undisturbed badger population, there is little movement and infected animals remain isolated. However, if badgers are removed, other badgers move into the area, bringing any diseases they have with them. When culling occurs, there is a small reduction in bTB within the cull zone, however on the edge of the cull zone there is an increase due to badger dispersal (the “perturbation effect”)12,13.

Badgers can pass bTB to cattle, however cattle can pass TB to badgers also14. bTB is also an issue where badgers are not present, including the Isle of Man and parts of Scotland15, and so they are not necessarily a factor in the spread of the disease.

Badgers are not the only wild animals that carry TB. Deer carry TB and tend to wander much further than badgers. Fallow and red deer in particular have high incidences of the disease. Foxes, squirrels and rats also carry TB16. However, following two studies indicating the relatively high incidences of TB in deer, Defra concluded that they are unlikely to pass the disease onto cattle. The Badger Trust responded: "This statement is plainly nonsense to those of us who have watched wild deer grazing alongside cattle at pasture."17

A Bit of History

In 1934, at least 40% of dairy cows in Great Britain were reported to be infected with Bovine TB18. In 1947 the Government began a programme of comparative  testing of cattle for bovine TB and slaughtering infected cattle to try and control the problem, which became compulsory in 1950 and reduced the number of bovine TB cases to a very low level by 1960, and by the mid-1960s cases of bovine TB in cattle were confined to a few areas of south-west England, and remained at low levels in other areas until the early 1990s19. TB incidences in cattle are far lower now than the in the 1930s. There was no badger cull back then - measures to reduce incidences of cattle-to-cattle transmission were responsible for the dramatic reduction in TB.

Badgers were first linked to bTB in 1971, and shortly afterwards farmers were issued licences to cull them. Between 1975 and 1981, badgers were gassed in their setts using hydrogen cyanide and from 1986 to 1998 culling occurred only on land used by tuberculin-positive cattle20. The effectiveness of previous strategies was unknown because they were not compared with each other or a strategy of no culling. Pro-cull advocates often point to the cull undertaken in Thornbury between 1975-81 as there was a slight reduction in bTB in cattle in the area, however this was not conceived as a scientific experiment and more research was required to evaluate the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of a cull11. A large-scale trial badger cull was implemented in 1998 by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB. Early results showed a consistent (around 27%) increase in bTB in cattle where culling had taken place, which is likely to be due to higher rates of badger dispersal in these areas21. Following the trial, the ISG stated in their report “while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone”13.

The recent rise in bTB in cattle has, in part, been attributed to relaxation of cattle testing following the mass slaughter moved all over the country, infecting other herds and potentially the local badger populations. A return to testing and biosecurity has already seen a decrease in the rate of infection, despite stories of farmers swapping cattle tags to keep infected valuable animals on their farms22

Why is the cull going ahead?

Despite this country’s top scientists and wildlife experts repeatedly finding that the cull won’t make much of a difference and that there are other avenues worth exploring, the cull will still be going ahead. Professor John Bourne has the answer: "I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, 'Fine John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers'."12

So if killing badgers isn’t the answer, what is?

It is estimated that only 15% of badgers carry bTB13, and therefore around 85% of badgers killed during the cull would not have posed any threat to cattle whatsoever. Back in 1997, Lord Krebs (the architect of the RBCT) supported the development of a vaccination for cattle - "We recommend that the best prospect for control of TB in the British herd is to develop a cattle vaccine. This is a long-term policy and success cannot be guaranteed. But the potential benefits are substantial and we consider this should be a high priority"11. In 2011, speaking to The Guardian, he re-stated his view that development of a vaccine should be a priority and called for "biosecurity measures" to reduce incidences of cattle coming into contact with badgers and other sources of TB, and from passing the disease between cattle. He also put into context the pointlessness of the cull - "You cull intensively for at least four years, you will have a net benefit of reducing TB in cattle of 12% to 16%. So you leave 85% of the problem still there, having gone to a huge amount of trouble to kill a huge number of badgers. It doesn't seem to be an effective way of controlling the disease"23.The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), undertaken between 1998 and 2005 report stated "While endorsing the need for continued research on vaccine development, we recognise that substantial obstacles need to be overcome in developing an effective vaccine and therefore advise that vaccination, of either cattle or badgers, should be considered only as a longer term option" and also "...there were insufficient data on the efficacy of [vaccines] in badgers to assess whether or not it represented a viable vaccine candidate"13.

Badger culling has been trialled and shown not to work. Vaccination is a potential alternative that us only just beginning to be explored. The Welsh Government has scrapped plans for a cull and has now embarked on a badger vaccination programme using the BCG vaccination - now that a proper attempt at this is being carried out, it would be very wise to wait and see what the results are before going for a destructive method that is not even recommended by top scientists, who are not averse to killing badgers themselves, if they thought it would make a difference. Other vaccination schemes are currently being trialled by conservation groups such as The National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts. Badgers are trapped and injected with the vaccine and then set free again. Although it is far too early to tell how effective this will be, if Lord Krebs is right, it would make sense to put off the cull until we some results from Wales. Continued research into a vaccine for cattle would be a sensible use of time and money.

The BCG vaccination has been shown to be 56-64% effective in cattle24, however it is not currently used due to EU regulations. Until recently, it was impossible to tell the difference between an infected and a vaccinated cow, a DIVA (Differentiation of Infected from Vaccinated Animals) test, which can tell the difference, has recently been developed and is awaiting validation before an attempt to change the law can be made. Rather than lobbying for a cull that simply won’t work, it is difficult to understand why farmers are not putting their efforts into lobbying for vaccination research and a change in the law. The scientists and other cull opponents would almost certainly join them if it meant an end to killing badgers.

In a recent letter to Veterinary Times, six veterinary surgeons recommended the simultaneous vaccination of cattle and badgers as the best approach25. They also drew attention to the issue of selective breeding of cattle for human purposes, which has effectively halted co-evolution with bTB. Cows with any resistance to bTB are slaughtered, as until recently there was no way of telling the difference between an infected and an immune cow. Welfare of cattle, including the conditions that adult cattle are subjected to and the lack of normal relationships between cows and calves could affect the health of cattle and make them more susceptible to bTB. They concluded that the dairy industry itself is at fault, and the solution lies in long-term restructuring and de-intensification of the industry.

Biosecurity measures would limit the spread of the disease in cattle, such as putting up badger-proof fences, keeping cattle in smaller sheds and improving ventilation, as well as more rigorous testing. Farm manager Steve Jones, who is against the cull, agrees that poor farm management, lax biosecurity and low standards of animal welfare, as well as slow responses to tackling bTB are the major problems, not the badgers. He maintains that farms should have quarantine areas for infected cattle, water troughs (sometimes shared by badgers) should be cleaned regularly and made badger-proof and that animal welfare should be prioritised.  A recent study suggests that managing farms for conservation can reduce the risk of transmission of TB from cattle to badgers, and makes some recommendations for farming practices, in particular an increase in hedgerows and a reduction of hedgerow gaps, which were found to be significant factors26. Julian Drewe of the Royal Veterinary College found that indirect contact between badgers and cattle occurs frequently, as cows have often been recorded at badger latrines. As badgers use the same latrines year after year, the simple act of fencing off the latrines will help to prevent this indirect contact10,27.

Who is opposing the cull?

A poll conducted by the BBC in 2011 suggested that 63% of the population are opposed to the cull28, and a Guardian poll put this figure at 91%29.

A wide variety of scientists, celebrities and organisations have come forth to oppose the cull. Scientists include Lord Krebs, the architect of the ISG cull trial, and Professor John Bourne, who led the cull trial. These are experts in their field who are not averse to killing badgers if it made a difference, and they stand by their finding “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”13 Thousands of badgers were killed in order to obtain that result.

Wildlife and animal rights organisations against the cull include The Badger Trust, RSPCA, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, League Against Cruel Sports, Badger Watch and Rescue, Humane Society International, Network for Animals, Viva and Conservatives Against Fox Hunting. Both the Green Party and the Labour Party have also voiced their opposition to the cull.

A campaign such as this is likely to attract the backing of a few celebrities. But by celebrities, I don't just mean the usual brigade that jump on the animal rights/environment bandwagon for a bit of publicity (although doubtless there are a few of these amongst them). Many of the most prominently outspoken celebrities involved are famed and respected for their wildlife knowledge - I'm talking about the likes of David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Simon King and Bill Oddie here30 – natural history experts in their own right, whose views are not to be taken lightly.

For several generations, the public has entrusted David Attenborough to inform about wildlife, and there’s no reason to stop listening to him now: "You may think that culling is the answer and it sounds easy to start with but it can very well make things much worse… Survivors will carry the disease into areas that have hitherto been unaffected. There's good scientific research available to show that culling badgers can make things worse and not better."31

Of course, Queen Guitarist Brian May is at the forefront of the campaign. But aside from his noodling guitar solos, he’s a respected scientist in his own right (in astronomy) and has been campaigning on animal rights issues for years.

Direct Action to date

Demonstrations outside supermarkets that have stated that they will continue to sell milk from the cull zones have been among the most visible elements of action taken so far, along with highly publicised marches and walks around the cull zones. Web-based activism has also played a large role, with numerous anti-cull Facebook groups and Twitter accounts sharing news items, scientific reports, petitions, details of protests and boycotts and collecting a large number of followers, to whom news and information of forthcoming direct actions can now easily reach. As has been seen in recent years with the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement and other protest groups and campaigns, this can draw out large numbers of people.

Activists have been out in the cull zones flyposting, sett surveying (so as to locate areas to focus direct action later on), tying black and white ribbons around trees on cull zone land to let farmers know they’ve been around and searching for signs of pre-baiting (typically peanuts left out for badgers). Activists have also been photographing evidence of bad practice or illegal activity on farms within the cull zones and making them public over the internet. In particular, the welfare of pheasants reared for shooting has been a major target32.

Disruption has been caused to the studies of the number of badgers within the cull zones. Recent studies have suggested that the number of badgers in the cull zones is much lower than thought, slashing the number of badgers thought to be in an area by around a third, however the Coalition of Badger Action Groups have claimed that this was due to activists removing hair samples from the hair traps. Therefore the number of badgers is unknown, making it difficult to set targets33.

Call this a democracy?

The badger cull is perhaps one of the finest case studies of recent times to point those who claim we live in a democracy to. Firstly, this is a Conservative Party policy, that is being implemented, a party so weak and unpopular that they failed to win the last election without the help of the even more unpopular Liberal Democrats, who are either far too weak or unwilling to stand up and put a stop to it. A badger cull was mentioned in the Conservative Party manifesto, but not in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.  Secondly, there’s the opinion polls – all of which show that if this policy went to a vote it would certainly be consigned to the dustbin of failed policies and never be brought up again. Unfortunately, the nearest thing to a vote we get on this policy is the much-hyped e-petition service, where anyone can start a petition and if it gets enough signatures and the backing of an MP, it can trigger a debate in parliament. The badger cull is so deeply unpopular amongst the general public that it succeeded in doing both, being among the first e-petitions to reach the critical number of signatures and gained the backing of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas. Owen Paterson left the debate in disgust early on, most likely as he was afraid of the humiliation would have faced. Our elected representatives then battled for hours before taking a non-binding vote – with 147 MPs voting against the cull and 28 voting for it. However, despite this victory, the vote did not put a stop to the cull. On this issue, on every level, it has been shown that the so-called democracy we live in and promote (often violently) around the world is a complete shambles.

A call to arms

The badgers cannot defend themselves against the guns. The farmers in support of the cull are being sold a white elephant by a government that is unwilling to tackle the real issues. Every possible legal method of defeating the cull before it starts has been tried, and despite every battle having been won by opponents – from the science to public opinion and winning over our MPs – Mr Paterson and the NFU appear to have won the war. All hope is, however, not lost. The following options are still left open to us:

1. Consumer boycotts – The majority of milk from the cull zones are sold in supermarkets. Of the big supermarkets, the Co-op, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer have stated that they do not sell milk from the cull zones. Yeo Valley milk is also not from the cullzones. Sainsbury’s and Tesco have been the focus of recent protests and have not yet backed down. The company that supplies Asda and Starbucks has responded to the pressure and has now stopped sourcing milk from a farm in the cull zone. Cow’s milk is not a requirement for a healthy diet, and there are alternatives, such as goat’s milk, soya milk, rice milk, oat milk etc. If enough people stop buying their milk then the farmers who are allowing the cull to go ahead may need to reconsider. For starters, you could try sending these suggested tweets: or sending messages to all of the big supermarkets via this link

2. Direct Action – People will be out in the fields at night doing all they can to stop badgers being shot. As many people as possible are needed. No-one is expected to stand in front of a gun, but we can still make things as difficult as possible for the shooters. Not all badgers will be saved, but the more people who come out, the more expensive this will be, and the chances of shooters hitting the target numbers of shot badgers will be reduced. Direct action is being organised by Stop the Cull and various Hunt Sabs groups – to find your local one visit

3. Promote alternatives. Although the farmers are responsible for paying for the cull and allowing access onto their land, it is arguably not entirely their fault that they are being sold something that will not work - this lies with the NFU and Defra, who are strong positions to influence their opinions. There are alternatives, and if the science and/or threats of direct action are enough to make them reconsider, we need to be there to help them tackle the problem in other ways.

4. If you haven’t already, sign the petition. Although the debate in parliament has taken place, the more signatures we get on the official petition, the more pressure we will put on them.

5. Boycott milk from the cull zones. The Co-operative, Marks and Spencer and Yeo Valley have stated that they do not source from the cull zones. To date, most other supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda, have stated that they will not stop sourcing from the cull zones. There are also initiatives to boycott the dairy industry altogether.

6. Demonstrate. Many local animal rights groups have been organising demonstrations across the country, often outside supermarkets selling milk from the cull zones. If there isn’t one near you, in these days of social media it is not difficult to set up an event and promote it. There is a national march on 1st June starting at at Millbank, near Tate Britain, London, SW1P 4RG at 12pm.

7. There will be a parliamentary vote on Weds 5th May 2013. Please write to your MP and urge them to vote against the cull. MP details can be found here:

Although the main focus of the campaign against the cull is protecting the badgers from being unnecessarily shot, this campaign has now gone far beyond that. As well as the animal welfare issue, this is also about science versus speculation, people versus government and democracy versus authoritarianism. When the government has chosen to ignore the findings of top specialists, the opinion of the vast majority of the public and the votes of the majority of our elected representatives, it is only right that this matter be taken into our own hands.

1.           DEFRA Badger cull to proceed next year. (2012).at <>
2.           DEFRA Compensation for Bovine TB, BSE, Brucellosis, and Enzootic Bovine Leukosis – July 2012. 1–4 (2012).
3.           CHAWG First Annual Report - GB Cattle Health & Welfare Group. (2012).
4.           Bradley, A. J. Bovine Mastitis: An Evolving Disease. The Veterinary Journal 164, 116–128 (2002).
5.           Badger Trust Bovine TB test undermined: infected cows escape detection. (2012).at <>
6.           Gilbert, M. et al. Cattle movements and bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain. Nature 435, 491–6 (2005).
7.           DARD How do cattle become infected? at <>
8.           DEFRA Bovine TB – The facts. (2009).
9.           Claridge, J. et al. Fasciola hepatica is associated with the failure to detect bovine tuberculosis in dairy cattle. Nature communications 3, 853 (2012).
10.         Drewe, J. A., O’Connor, H. M., Weber, N., McDonald, R. A. & Delahay, R. J. Patterns of direct and indirect contact between cattle and badgers naturally infected with tuberculosis. Epidemiology and infection 1–9 (2013).doi:10.1017/S0950268813000691
11.         Krebs, J. R. et al. Bovine tuberculosis in cattle and badgers. (London, 1997).
12.         Kendall, P. & Packham, C. Vital cull or heartless slaughter? The great badger debate. The Independent (online edition) (2012).at <>
13.         Bourne, F. J. Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. (London, 2007).
14.         Carrington, D. Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis. The Guardian (online edition) (2013).at <>
15.         Anon. Dead Sett? SchNEWS 1 (2012).at <>
16.         The Badger Trust Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers: Q and A. (2012).at <>
17.         The Badger Trust At least 26 per cent of deer found with TB, study reveals. (2012).at <>
18.         DEFRA Animal health 2004. The report of the Chief Veterinary Officer. (2005).
19.         Reynolds, D. A review of tuberculosis science and policy in Great Britain. Veterinary microbiology 112, 119–26 (2006).
20.         Woodroffe, R., Frost, S. D. W. & Clifton-Hadley, R. S. Attempts to Control Tuberculosis in Cattle by Removing Infected Badgers: Constraints Imposed by Live Test Sensitivity. Journal of Applied Ecology 36, 494–501 (1999).
21.         Donnelly, C. A., Woodroffe, R., Cox, D. R., Bourne, J. & Morrison, W. I. Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle. Journal of Applied Ecology 426, (2003).
22.         Kaminski, J. Badger culls don’t stop tuberculosis in cattle – the evidence is clear. The Guardian (online edition) (2011).at <>
23.         Harvey, F. Badger culling is ineffective, says architect of 10-year trial. The Guardian (online edition) (2011).at <>
24.         Ameni, G., Vordermeier, M., Aseffa, A., Young, D. B. & Hewinson, R. G. Field Evaluation of the Efficacy of Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-GuĂ©rin against Bovine Tuberculosis in Neonatal Calves in Ethiopia. Clinical Vand Vaccine Immunology 17, 1533–1538 (2010).
25.         McGill, I. et al. Simultaneous vaccination “best way” to tackle bTB. Vet Times 42, 35 (2012).
26.         Mathews, F., Lovett, L., Rushton, S. & Macdonald, D. W. Bovine tuberculosis in cattle: reduced risk on wildlife-friendly farms. Biology letters 2, 271–4 (2006).
27.         Driver, A. New research sheds light on bTB transmission. Farmer’s Guardian (online edition) (2013).at <>
28.         Black, R. UK public opposed to badger cull, opinion poll suggests. BBC News (online edition) (2011).at <>
29.         Anon. Would a badger cull be justified? The Guardian (online edition) (2011).at <>
30.         Badger Protection League Badger Protection League - Supporters. (2012).at <>
31.         Parkham, P. David Attenborough: badger cull could worsen TB in cattle. The Guardian (online edition) (2011).at <>
32.         Anon. Sett for a Showdown. SchNEWS 843, 1 (2013).
33.         Stop the Cull The Times Hair DNA story with a bit of extra background. Stop the Cull (2013).at <>

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Austerity: A Public Meeting in Bath

From Bath People's Assembly:

Press Release 13/5/13 - Austerity: A Public Meeting

Following a strong line-up of successful public debates and events in recent times, including debates on fracking, the NHS and nuclear power, as well as last month's Visions for Change event, featuring stalls and talks from over 25 groups working for a better world and film director Ken Loach, Bath People's Assembly is now returning to its roots and organising a public meeting on austerity this Friday.

The aim of the meeting is to discuss the impact of the government's austerity programme on Bath residents, and to generate ideas for actions to ensure that no-one is unjustly affected. In particular, issues such as benefit cuts, changes to disability welfare, cuts to the NHS, the bedroom tax and related issues such as growing income inequality, workfare and redundancies will be addressed. All are welcome to attend the meeting, which is held between 7.15 and 9pm at the Friends' Meeting House, York St., Bath, BA1 1NG

Entry is free and light refreshments will be provided.

A Facebook event page has been created to promote the meeting: