I have received a number of emails from constituents concerned about the government’s strategy for achieving a Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) Free status, in England by 2038. Specifically, concerns about the badger culling operations that are taking place across the UK have been brought to my attention. As an animal lover, I find any policy that results in the suffering of animals difficult to accept, therefore I have to base my opinion on the evidence and data provided.
Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is currently the most prominent animal health problem in the UK and has a drastic effect on cattle farmers, their families and communities. In 1979, bTB only effected 0.01% of British cattle and was isolated in small areas of the country – however, in recent years it has drastically spread northwards and eastwards causing the number of newly infected herds to have doubled every 9 years.
Due to the controversy over badger culling, the government commissioned Sir Charles Godfray to lead an independent review of the government’s 25 year bTB strategy. The review concluded that badgers do transmit bovine TB to cattle and contribute to the persistence of the disease. Furthermore, statistics published in 2018 showed a 58% reduction in the disease in Gloucestershire and 21% in Somerset after two years of culling, in comparison to un-culled areas. The statistics suggest that badger culling is effectively combatting the spread of bTB, and will not therefore cease unless an as effective alternative is found.
However, the Independent review also outlined a number of alternative measures that the government should focus on in more detail, which could eventually lessen the need for the current levels of badger culling.
The suggestions included:
- Industry taking a greater responsibility for on-farm controls, biosecurity and safe trading practices to stop disease spreading
- More guidance for farmers making purchasing decisions reflecting the risks of cattle being infected
- Introduction of a new independent body to take over disease control operations from APHA, Natural England and local authorities
I understand the ethical concerns over badger culling, and as previously stated, any policy that results in the suffering of animals does not sit well with me. The government have said they understand that culling must be humane and therefore licencing is not issued lightly. The Department for Food and Rural affairs have published guidance on licences for badger culling here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/710537/tb-licensing-guidance-ne.pdf
In addition to this, badger culling operations are monitored and checked on their humaneness, licensing and effectiveness. The operations are assessed by Natural England’s Chief Scientist and the UK Chief vet to ensure they are safe, effective and humane.
The government have stated that due to the complexity of the disease, there is no single measure that will lead to eradication. They currently pursue several interventions including tighter cattle movement controls, regular testing and vaccinations. The option of an injectable vaccine has been available since 2010, however as this a preventative measure, it is unable to address the reservoir of badgers already infected with TB, and cannot be an alternative to culling. The government published the statistics on the effectiveness of badgers vaccinated earlier this year:
Whilst badger culling is not a method I ethically agree with, it safeguards other animals within the environment as well as our dairy and beef industries, therefore until an alternative method is found the government has no option but to utilise this method.