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Philip Mansbridge

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Why Vaccinating Badgers Is a Viable Alternative to the Cull (Despite What Defra Says)

Posted: 11/06/2013 00:00

It's official: The government is dragging its heels re cattle and badger vaccinations, lacks strategy and needs to enforce better cattle bio security, movement controls and testing.

Is that my opinion? Well, yes, but also that of the government's own advisory body on vaccination against bovine TB, EFRA (the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee).

In a report issued last week, they were also highly critical of the government's failure to communicate the complexity of the bTB problem. In a document that neither mentions or endorses a cull, this is perhaps a clear swipe at Owen Paterson's 'badgers must die at all costs' bTB management position.

In fairness it did say vaccination was no magic bullet, and there were many things still unknown or requiring more investigation/research in this field, but we would be the first to agree. At Care for the Wild we've always said that badger vaccination can only work alongside better cattle bio security and better management of cattle movement.

So is the government really dragging its heels? Their current mantra, straight from the NFU's spin team, is that they want to see 'healthy badgers and healthy cattle'. True? I think not.

At the tail end of last year, Care for the Wild, as part of a sub group of Team Badger, developed a vaccination solution called the Badger Vaccination Initiative (BVI).

BVI was more than just a concept - it was a well-planned and well-resourced first stage of a detailed project which would involve mass vaccination of badgers to humanely reduce the risk of inter-species transfer of bTB. It was about government, charities, land owners and volunteers coming together to tackle an issue in a very British way. It was Cameron's Big Society in action.

We submitted the document to the EFRA Select Committee, we costed it out, we overcame the so often cited problems of 'not enough people to do it', 'it's too expensive', etc., and we spoke to leading officials and stakeholders informally about the project - including the NFU.

The truth is, as soon as the shooting starts the cull will be deemed unviable - we know that mass protests in the cull zones are already planned, health and safety will be at risk and local people will not want to be entangled in this. Policing costs will rocket and the cull will have to move to trap and shoot - something that costs more than vaccination anyway - plus why kill a caged badger when you could just vaccinate it?

The cost of free shooting badgers is £200 per square km excluding police costs, but trap and shoot rockets to £2,500 per square Km. Trapping and vaccinating badgers is estimated by Defra to be £2,250 per square Km. Our BVI plans showed how we'd bring this figure down further.

Another EFRA report released last year showed that vaccination can reduce bTB within a badger sett by over 50%, the effect then spreads to the (unvaccinated) cubs. This means it can play a major part in dealing with this problem while the government, hopefully, pushes on with making a cattle vaccine viable.

So, we offered the government a solution, the option to harness the passion of the welfare charities, to save money and to be popular once more. But, oddly, we got no takers.

Right now the government is about to embark on one of the most divisive policies of its time. The public are against it, the opposition (who conducted the original 10 year trial) are against it, as are the majority of MPs (when un-whipped). What's more, no matter how you package it, the science isn't on side either.

The only scientists who are pro-cull are those on the payroll of government or the farming industry. Even the British Veterinary Association's own vets openly attacked their organisation in the Independent last week, accusing them of bringing their profession into disrepute by the BVA's pro-cull stance.

So, forget the media friendly rhetoric of 'healthy badgers, healthy cattle'. Studies show that only one in seven badgers from bTB hotspots are actually infected with TB, and only 1% - just one in 100 during the Randomised Badger Culling Trials - had extensive, severe, signs of disease. Within this, only 2% of infected badgers have been shown to be transmitting the disease.

So the government aims to kill 70 out of every 100 badgers just to 'help' the one badger that's actually sick. Lucky badgers - that really is taking one for the team, Defra style.

What we need to be focusing on is a new rhetoric: Pull your socks up Mr Paterson, abandon this pointless cull whilst you still have a shred of integrity for your commitment to wildlife in Africa, and listen to the advice of the people who know.

Please, take some positive action before you devastate the good reputation of farmers, anger the masses and pointlessly kill thousands of uninfected badgers for no valid reason.

 

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