The Toolbox

I am determined to use every tool at our disposal and to bear down on the disease in both cattle and badgers.

Owen Paterson, Oxford Farming Conference, January 2013

It seems, however, that all tools are not created equal and some enjoy greater favour than others.

© Rohan Chakravarthy

© Rohan Chakravarthy

If you really don’t want to kill badgers, as Mr Paterson has also said elsewhere, then why not fast-track the alternatives? Instead, badger vaccination trials were cut from 6 to 1 by the Coalition Government, and we are told that cattle vaccination is many years away. Meanwhile, we hear that Ethiopia, a poor developing country, is moving ahead with its TB vaccination programme for cattle – something the Welsh Assembly government is keen to learn more about, but not, it seems the Coalition Government.

More importantly, there is much that can be done even without vaccinating badgers or cattle or killing a single badger – if only the bureaucrats and politicians driving the badger cull policy forward applied not just common sense, but also their own policies about ‘putting nature at the heart of decision-making’.

The ISG‘s report on the RBCT – the longest and most robust scientific study on badger control there is –  concluded that badger culling could make no meaningful contribution to the future control of bovine TB in Britain. The RBCT found that while badgers do contribute “significantly” to the disease in cattle in high incidence areas, cattle-to-cattle transmission of TB was not only “very important” but also the main cause of disease spread to new areas.” (ISG 2007, Pp. 14-15). Thus, the ISG stated in its final overall conclusions concluded that:

“the rigorous application of heightened control measures directly targeting cattle will reverse the year-on-year increase in the incidence of cattle TB and halt the geographical spread of the disease.” (ISG 2007, p. 181)

The Government has introduced additional cattle-related TB  measures over recent months but it remains to be seen whether these will be implemented with the same determination and vigour as the badger control policy by all concerned.

The truth is there are no silver bullets for bovine TB control and prevention – and yes, we do need to use many different tools to manage it – but do we really need to kill thousands of mostly healthy badgers across England through dubious untested methods, when the scientific evidence suggests that there are better ways of achieving greater reductions in cattle TB?

In this section of Badgergate, we take a closer look at the pros and cons of various options for bovine TB management, starting with badger vaccination. We will also examine cattle-based measures and revisit the issue of badger control.