Government still refuses to test badgers for bTB, yet the killing continues to accelerate.
The government finally published this year’s planned intensive badger cull ‘kill targets’ – despite culling starting again in August. The government’s stated aim is to ‘remove’ (kill) between 70% and 90% of badgers in each cull area and across most of the South West of England. In ‘low-risk’ areas, there is no upper limit.
As Badger Trust feared, this year’s licence data reveal that up to 53,234 badgers could be killed this year, meaning the total death toll for badgers in England is expected to surpass 260,000 since culling began in 2013. This unscientific onslaught is now pushing badgers to the brink of extinction in long-established cull areas, despite the fact that badgers are not tested to establish whether they have bTB or are a risk to cattle. All cattle slaughtered are proven to have bTB; with badgers, no tests are undertaken.
Cattle 800 times more likely to pass bTB to badgers than badgers to cattle
However, the problem isn’t badgers – it’s cattle biosecurity. For example, a recent government study in Northern Ireland showed that cattle were 800 times more likely to pass bTB to badgers than badgers were to cattle.
Bovine TB is primarily a respiratory infection, and whilst some level of infection can remain in the environment, its main route of transmission is direct contact with an infected individual.
Cattle-to-cattle transmission has been recognised overwhelmingly as the primary driver of bTB outbreaks in cattle herds. Even the government’s own data show that bTB is mainly spread from cattle to cattle. And independent scientific studies of government data in cull and non-cull zones show there is no difference in bTB reduction between the two, which is why cattle biosecurity is vital in fighting this disease.
Government proposes ‘extreme badger culling’ consultation
Yet the government still plans to consult on even more extreme culling. Despite a pledge to end badger culling in 2025, the government is expected to consult on ‘Epidemiological Culling’, where shooters will kill 100% of badgers in an area, based on (as yet unspecified) “epidemiological evidence”. Again, instead of focusing on more effective cattle-based measures, badgers remain the scapegoats for a poorly controlled cattle-spread disease.
Peter Hambly, Executive Director of Badger Trust, commented:
“The local extinction of badgers is happening right here, right now. 260,000 badgers represent over half of Britain’s badger population – there has never been an assault on nature like this over a decade in our history.
The government won’t even test the culled badgers – they know most wouldn’t even have bTB. Every cow slaughtered has the disease, but with badgers, it’s so different.
Even worse, as the latest study shows, any that do have bTB are 800 times more likely to have caught it from cattle. The same study found that transmission rates from badger to cattle is negligible. The best way to deal with bTB is through cattle-based measures – enhanced biosecurity, such as restricting cattle movements and effective cattle testing and vaccination.”
England remains the only country in Great Britain to cull badgers, with Scotland being largely bTB-free by restricting cattle movements into the country and Wales reducing bTB without resorting to badger culling. Both Scotland and Wales have healthy badger populations.