A battle against badgers has been going on in the UK for some time now. The problem: tuberculosis in cattle. One of the answers being discussed is to cull badgers. The reason? Badgers are known to spread bovine tuberculosis to cattle herds.
About Bovine Tuberculosis
Bovine tuberculosis causes respiratory disease in both cattle and humans. It is spread to humans through infected unpasteurized milk or inhaling the bacteria at slaughter.
The incubation period ranges from months to years, depending on each animal’s individual immune system. Infection is chronic and once detected the animal is killed to prevent infection of the herd. Once infection is established in a herd, the disease spreads through aerosolized droplets or ingestion of feed infected by the saliva of a TB positive animal.
This is a serious public health issue worldwide, though it is more prevalent in developing countries that do not regularly pasteurize milk. An article in Trends in Microbiology from Feb 2010 recognizes bovine TB is increasing in the UK. However, the authors state, “We propose that bTB [bovine tuberculosis] control in cattle is irrelevant as a public health policy. In the UK, cattle-to-human transmission is negligible. Aerosol transmission, the only probable route of human acquisition, occurs at inconsequential levels when milk is pasteurised, even when bTB is highly endemic in cattle.”
So why are badgers in danger of being culled in the UK? The BBC reported there will be no badger culling this year, but after further study, a pilot culling is expected for spring 2012 with a larger implementation in 2013.
Badgers are considered a protected species under UK and European laws but on Tuesday, Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary said she was “strongly minded” to allow culling, after details of the methodology was sent out for consultation. Ministers have authority to approve culling of protected species in consideration of health issues. Dairy farmers are delighted; animal advocates are annoyed.
Responses will be examined and can be emailed to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org . The DEFRA website requests “When responding, please state which organisation you are responding on behalf of.”
The long term UK study, Randomized Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) performed between 1998 and 2007 concluded:
“First, 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.”
What the People Want
Many animal advocates including the RSPCA do not believe in badger culling as a viable option. A poll performed last month in the UK found the majority of UK citizens do not want a badger cull to take place. According to BBC, the poll showed 63% said badgers should NOT be culled for cattle TB with 31% in favor and the remainder is undecided.
What You Can Do
You can read about England’s Bovine TB Eradication Program. Despite public opinion, it looks like the UK will proceed with badger culling beginning next year. Please let your feelings be known.
Photo credit from Flickr: sgetliffe
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