Yet More Evidence a Badger Cull isn’t Needed to Stop TB in Cattle

In another blow to the UK government’s on-going badger cull program, a new study shows that compared to other practices, culling is inefficient and ineffective. Will this change the government’s mind about this year’s planned cull?

The research, which was conducted by a team at Queen Mary University of London, represents the first major large-scale computer model of TB in cattle and its relationship to badgers. By creating a model that incorporated a large body of data on things like how badgers and cattle might interact, the life cycles of badgers, the way cattle are moved and fed, and TB-specific practices like how often the cattle are tested, the researchers were able to get a clearer view on the results of culling compared to other methods.

What they found was that in an average county-sized region that housed some 1.5 million cows, where anywhere between 3,000 to 15,000 might have TB, badger culling alone was not an effective solution and could be relied on to prevent just 12 cases of the disease.  So what did work? The researchers found that it was far more effective to increase the frequency of TB testing. Currently, cattle are only tested every 12 months unless a herd presents with infected cattle. They found that cutting the time between tests to just one month could save around 193 cows, making testing a much more efficient way of identifying infected herds and stopping TB in its tracks.

“Of the available bovine tuberculosis control strategies we believe that how frequently cattle are tested and whether or not farms utilize winter housing have the most significant effect on the number of infected cattle,” Matthew Evans, Professor of Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, is quoted as saying. “Our modelling provides compelling evidence, for those charged with controlling bovine TB, that investment in increasing the frequency of cattle testing is a far more effective strategy than badger culling.”

The study, which is published this month in the journal Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment, isn’t the first study to cast doubt on the government’s badger cull plans.

In fact, models based on other pilot culls demonstrated that the tactic would not stop the spread of TB among cattle. Another national-scale study showed that culling cattle would in fact be more effective because it would essentially cut TB from spreading by wiping out all infected cattle. The researchers acknowledged this would not be a popular method but they say it would be far more efficient at tackling TB.

Despite this evidence, farmers’ unions, who have been accused of intransigence but maintain that they are simply trying to find a workable solution for all concerned, say that the latest study does not match farmers’ experiences, with a spokesperson for the National Farmers Union (NFU) implying that the data used, while not necessarily flawed itself, doesn’t accurately reflect the current situation:

“Its conclusions fly in the face of the experiences of most farmers who say that the biggest risk to their cattle isn’t being housed in winter but when they are turned out into the fields in the spring. Cattle in high risk TB areas are tested at least annually and herds placed under restriction have to pass two consecutive TB tests 60 days apart. Testing any more frequently than that would simply not be practical.”

The government appears to have welcomed the study as confirmation that no one approach will eradicate TB among cattle and that a combination of culling, more frequent testing and, potentially, vaccination programs might be needed if the UK is to get a proper handle on the bovine TB situation.

The government plans on a further series of culls in 2015 despite the fact that data released in 2013 about the government’s trial culls showed that the government had failed to meet the target number of kills needed to have a meaningful impact on the chances of TB spread. Reports also showed that badgers were sometimes injured and suffered long and possibly agonizing deaths.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

137 comments

Teresa W.
Teresa W2 years ago

Save the badgers!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan H2 years ago

ty

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Sheri D.
Sheri D2 years ago

Thank you for this article.

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Miriam O.

Thanks so much for sharing!

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Kate Collier
Kate Collier2 years ago

I'm afraid David Cameron appears to like cruelty towards animals! Our own MP is a vice president of the league against cruel sports and is a wonderful guy, but we can only hope that a change of government will help this ridiculous cruelty. No-one seems to take any notice of facts, logic or common sense, whereas they could put the money they've thrown away towards subsidising more Bovine testing. Makes my blood BOIL!!

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Deborah W.
Deborah W2 years ago

MORE FREQUENT TESTING TO GET AHEAD OF THE GAME ... what a novel idea.

Afraid culling will remain on the current docket due to current mindsets ... NO, make that SET MINDS
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And after undisputable evidence culling is ineffective, will come another reintroduction, relocation, and eventually even another round of culling. Will we ever learn?

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Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege2 years ago

Why cull badgers, then?

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Giustina C.
Giustina C2 years ago

I have been emailing my MP, a conservative, about this subject and about and the wish of this government to reinstate fox hunting, for months. They are so ignorant about the subject and so hypocritical it makes my blood boil, and yet they have the power to dictate on such a subject !!!

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Nancy Hatcher
Nancy Hatcher2 years ago

This is "cut your finger off if you get a splinter" mentality! What a stupid way to try to solve a bad situation.... The Queen of Hearts "off with their heads"......

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