In an attempt to involve more people in the debate about bovine TB and badgers, Environment Minister Liz Truss has said that bTB will affect ordinary households by threatening the supply of milk and beef.
On the Western Morning News website in an article headlined "Environment minister: badger cull will protect milk and beef", Truss is quoted as saying that bovine TB ravaging dairy and beef herds in the West Country is a “threat to our future food security”.
The article says: "In a sign the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is seeking wider public approval for the controversial policy, Ms Truss shifted the emphasis towards the impact even on families living in the city with no farming connections."
Shropshire Badger Group is providing a free badger vaccination scheme to a number of farms across Shropshire as a contribution towards reducing bovine TB. Cage traps have now been placed on various farms and this process will continue until the middle of November. Most are well within the properties, and not visible to the general public, but some may be visible from public footpaths.
All the cages carry a notice explaining their purpose and in order to comply with government guidance as well as providing the best possible vaccination outcome, it is imperative that the cages are not touched or interfered with in any way. Badgers are very sensitive to the smell of humans and will then avoid the cages.
Although the cages will be in place for about a week at each location, the actual vaccination process only occurs over two consecutive nights. Badgers will be encouraged into the cages by baiting with peanuts and then early the following morning they will be vaccinated and released. Previous experience shows that they are generally very unconcerned about their experience, so much so that it’s not unusual for the same badgers to enter the cages a second time. They will have been marked initially and will not be vaccinated again but simply released.
The process does not disrupt the badger population, as is known to be the case with badger culling, and the whole idea follows the tried and trusted method of dealing with disease that has been used for years within both the human and animal populations.
This scheme is being provided completely free of charge to the farms concerned in an attempt to demonstrate that vaccination is the best way to deal with any residual disease in the badger population and that it can be delivered effectively by a voluntary organisation. It will cost Shropshire Badger Group about £8,000 over the four-year period of the scheme, and we would welcome any funding assistance.
The Shropshire Star has today (30 September) covered this story; you can read it here.
The government has said its vaccination programme in Gloucestershire is a 'vital' part of its plan to tackle bovine TB, even though it maintains that it still needs to go ahead with culling.
BBC Midlands news reported yesterday (7 August 2014) that the vaccination programme, now in its 5th year, will continue, even though the second year of pilot culls is expected to begin within weeks.
The NFU has once again claimed that vaccination is not cost-effective.
Protesters plan to hold a demonstration against the cull in Worcester next Wednesday, 13 August, 4pm-6pm, according to Evesham Journal. You can find out the details here.
There will also be a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London, on Thursday 21 August, when the Badger Trust's legal action against Defra and Natural England is taking place. The protest will start at 12 noon and go on until 5pm. If you are on Facebook, you can see more details here: https://m.facebook.com/events/1436097686672812 and also on the Shropshire Badger Group Facebook page.
The culls are expected to begin again despite the new environment secretary Liz Truss, who replace Owen Paterson in the reshuffle, coming under pressure to think again. Campaigners hoped it would be a chance to change course, but Truss merely reiterated that the culls would indeed continue, and this time without being monitored by the Independent Expert Panel, whose evidence last year showed that the pilot culls were neither effective nor humane.
The government yesterday (26 August) gave the green light to a new cull of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset, despite continuing objections on scientific and humane grounds from not only anti-cull protesters but also eminent scientists.
Dr Chris Cheeseman, speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 today, said that the government's Independent Expert Panel had concluded that the culls had failed on both efficacy and humane grounds, and that the chief adviser to Natural England had also declared the culls an “epic failure”. Dr Cheeseman reiterated the concerns about the effects of perturbation, which may well make the bTB situation in cattle worse.
He explained that the results of these culls could not possibly be compared with the RBCT – Randomised Badger Culling Trials, which ended in 2007 - because the procedures had been changed and so the outcome would not be the same. He said this time the culls were industry-led, they took place over six weeks rather than 12 days, and were carried out by shooting – all of which was very disruptive to badgers. Even then, the perceived improvement was of a reduction in bTB of between only 6% and 12% over nine years. The experts all say any short-term positive is likely to become a negative in the long term... “why would you want to do that?” he asked.
Andrew Guest, chairman of the NFU in Gloucestershire, said he did not consider the culls last year to be a failure, because more than 900 badgers were “removed” and “every sick badger removed” leads to a reduction in the risk of bTB in cattle. Mr Guest was not picked up on his implication that all the badgers “removed” were sick.
The announcement by Defra of the new culls was reported on the Natural England website, saying that “all the criteria have been met” to allow the second series of culls to take place. Operations will take place under the existing four-year licences that allow culling to take place every year between 1 June and 31 January. You can read their announcement here.
The Guardian also ran the story on its website yesterday, saying that the companies are obliged to kill a minimum number of badgers – 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset. The maximum has been set at 1,091 in Glos and 785 in Somerset.
The authorisation letters have been issued before the high court has finished considering a challenge brought by the Badger Trust against the government's decision to dispense with monitoring of the cull by the IEP.
The Badger Trust has also issued a press release about the announcement, in which Dominic Dyer, chief executive, says that Natural England have “jumped the gun” by issuing the authorisation letters before the high court has made a judgment on the trust's challenge. Mr Dyer reiterated the statistics from Wales, which show that bTB has been reduced by 50% in five years, without a single bader being killed, through improved farming measures.
Anti-cull campaigners will no doubt be pleased to hear that Owen Paterson is leave his post as environment secretary in David Cameron's cabinet reshuffle today (15 July 2014). Rowena Mason writes on today's Guardian website: "Green campaigners were rejoicing over the departure of the climate sceptic, while the National Farmers' Union was downcast at the exit of a cabinet minister who consistently stuck up for rural areas."
As the Badger Trust recently won the right to a High Court challenge of the goverment's decision not to consult the Independent Expert Panel before continuing with the two West Country culls this year and before possibly rolling them out to a wider area next year, campaigners were saying that Paterson would have to defend 'his' cull. But now it seems he will not have to. Someone else will!
The report in April by the IEP, commissioned before the 2013 pilot culls to review their safety, effectiveness and humaneness, was extremely critical, saying they were neither effective nor humane, and issued recommendations to improve them before they could be carried out in 2014. But soon afterwards, Paterson said the panel would not be reconvened before the next phase of culling.
Aan article in Farmers Weekly earlier this month by Jonathan Riley said:
"The trust’s legal challenge has been welcomed by Ranald Munro, who chaired the IEP. 'The Independent Expert Panel’s report states clearly the rationale for ensuring that independent monitoring and the use of the statistically robust sample sizes and analytical methods, as used in the 2013 culls, are followed in further culling exercises,' said Mr Munro."
In the meantime, of course, statistics continue to arrive that show that badger culling is not the way forward for control of bovine TB in cattle. In March, bTB figures were at their lowest level in 10 years. Writing on This is the West Country website, Sam Jones says: "The national incidence rate, which records the proportion of new outbreaks discovered through testing, was at 3.25% in March this year - the lowest figure since 2004."
And earlier this month a feature on the Guardian website said that cattle measures were the only way to control bTB and that the government should even consider mass culling of cattle - unpopular though it would be - rather than continuing to focus its efforts on controlling the disease by eradicating badgers. The new scientific research, writes Damian Carrington, is a blow to the government's current policy. The research was published in Nature, one of the world's most prestigious science journals.
The Guardian adds: "Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust which is currently challenging the badger cull in the high court, said: “This groundbreaking report should be the final nail in the coffin of the disastrous badger cull policy. This report clearly shows that the most effective way to reduce bovine TB is not to kill hundreds of thousands of badgers. Calling an immediate halt to all future badger culls will deliver a good result in the battle to eradicate this disease not only for farmers, but also for taxpayers and our precious wildlife.”
You can read the full Guardian article here.
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