Experts call for halt to culling of badgers as bovine tuberculosis link disputed | Badgers

Scientists, veterinarians and naturalists are calling for a moratorium on badger culling in light of evidence they say shows nine years of badger killing have failed to reduce bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

The cull of legally protected badgers to reduce bovine tuberculosis is entering its 10th season this summer, despite the publication of a scientific paper in the journal Veterinary Record earlier this year which concluded that the cull had no significant impact on bovine tuberculosis in cattle herds. The paper sparked a row over its methodology, which the government said was flawed, but its supporters say it shows the practice should end.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary, experts including Jane Goodall, Professor Andrew Knight and Professor Ranald Munro, who sat on the Government’s independent scientific panel examining the effectiveness and humanity of culling, warned that new culling licenses could target 25,000 badgers in addition to more than 175,000 licensed kills since the controversial policy began in 2013.

Although the government pledged in 2020 to phase out badger culling in favor of vaccination of cattle and badgers, better testing for bovine tuberculosis and enhanced biosecurity measures on farms, the new licenses issued this summer will continue to see badgers culled through 2025.

In the letter, the signatories, including Chris Packham, MP Caroline Lucas and Will Travers and Virginia McKenna, founders of Born Free, called for an immediate moratorium on the issuance of a final round of four-year logging licenses, calling on the government to conduct “a thorough, independent and transparent review of the policy.

The peer-reviewed article Vet Record by independent ecologist Tom Langton and veterinarians Iain McGill and Mark Jones – also signatories to the letter – analyzed government data on bovine tuberculosis in cattle herds in the area “to high risk” of England over the period 2010-2020. and found that in nine out of 10 counties, b-TB incidence peaked and began to decline before badger culling began.

In response, Defra published its own analysis in the form of a graph, which was not peer-reviewed, and which it later admitted was based on “incorrect calculations”. Defra argues that the Vet Record document was “scientifically flawed” and claims the cull reduced bovine tuberculosis.

Tom Langton, lead author of the independent article, said: ‘Defra has painted itself into a ridiculous scientific corner and now simply refuses to discuss it. It is a sign of a government that has lost its grip and cannot accept that its own data now shows that the badger cull is a cruel and ineffective failure.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We have reviewed the article published in Vet Record with Apha [Animal and Plant Health Agency] scientists and found the analysis to be scientifically flawed, while national statistics show that our strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis is working, as we are now seeing sustained reductions in this insidious disease.

“Thanks to the progress made, we are now able to move to the next phase of the long-term eradication strategy, including defining measures to expand badger vaccination alongside improved livestock testing and a potential vaccine for livestock. We have always been clear that we do not want to continue the current badger cull any longer than necessary. »

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McGill said: “Our analysis has been rigorously peer-reviewed and robust. Defra’s answer was not peer reviewed and based on bad data. If Defra is convinced it is right, it should have no problem with an independent review of all available data.

Lucas said: ‘It couldn’t be clearer – culling badgers just doesn’t stop the spread of TB in cattle. Yet even when presented with this evidence, Defra has his fingers in his ears and continues to kill at will. We need a moratorium to allow time for an independent review of the evidence – which I have no doubt will reinforce the message that this cruel and counterproductive badger cull must end.

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