Badger trial is “rigged – and useless”

Here’s a press release from the Badger Trust, outlinging its concerns about the badger cull pilots announced yesterday.

19th January 2012
Badger killing trial is rigged – and useless

The Coalition Government says its culling trials will be science-led, but it has rigged the pilots from the start. It has chosen two areas “as the most suitable to pilot controlled shooting of badgers”. The next sentence claims the trial will be “part of a science-led policy” to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
Any trial that takes place in a “carefully selected area” only, cannot possibly be science-led and would be useless if the methods were applied to other areas.

No exact whereabouts are given in the official announcement, nor in the Minister’s accompanying statement. Consequently it is difficult for the public, both lay and scientific , to verify any assertions about effectiveness. Furthermore, no indications have yet been provided of how the pilot trials will be adequately and independently monitored to ensure they are effective and humane. There are no details of any plausible means of measuring the effects of shooting over six weeks in areas of at least eight miles by eight (150 sq km).

The announcement refers to the 25,000 cattle slaughtered because of bTB in 2010, but fails to give the context – the total number of cattle slaughtered prematurely. This is has been estimated as at least ten times as many as for bTB, 300,000 from mastitis, lameness, and infertility among the many other reasons for premature slaughter [1].

The document, is riddled with half-truths, such as a statement by Mr Jim Paice, the farming Minister that: “No country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife too”. Firstly, Britain brought it down to 628 in 1979 – without killing badgers [2]. Secondly, there is a world of difference between badgers in the UK and wildlife (unspecified) in other countries (unnamed) and the methods used are not revealed. Crucially, there is a known risk unique to badgers – that stirring up a population increases the risk of bTB transmission (perturbation). No other country has controlled bTb without draconian cattle restrictions and testing regimes.

Another half-truth, in the notes to the statement, was that the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) of 1998-2007 [3] showed that badger control done correctly over time reduces the incidence of bovine TB in high incidence areas. It also said (but the Minister did not): “After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain”.

Yet another was a reference in the statement to the 16 per cent benefit over nine years, which tends to support rather than contradict the RBCT’s conclusion. The figure was in a report [4] of a meeting between Defra’s Chief Scientist and scientific experts in April, but not published until four months later.
The Trust and its legal advisers are studying this and any other statements that may be forthcoming before deciding whether or not to start legal proceedings.

[2] The eradication of bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain. By W. D. Macrae, MAFF, Zoological Society of London from Symp, Zool. Soc., Lond. No. 4, pp. 81-90 (Published April, 1961).

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