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Improved Testing of Infected Cattle Can Beat bTB – Without Culling Badgers, Says New Research

Badger culling will potentially reduce the number of bTB infected cattle by just 12 out of 15,000, according to new research. But reducing the interval at which the cattle are tested for bTB by just one month could reduce the number of sick cattle by 193.

The research, released by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) on 14th January 2015, states that ‘regular and frequent testing of cattle could eventually lead to the eradication of the disease, whether or not badgers were culled’. Keeping cattle housed in large sheds over winter could also double the number of infected cattle in a herd, the research says.

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said:

“This research is large-scale, objective, and takes into full account the possibility of badgers being responsible for bTB infections in cattle – yet still it concludes that the answer to beating this disease is to focus on the cattle. This is the message we at the Badger Trust, Care for the Wild and many others, have been hammering home over the last couple of years, so maybe now the government will feel the need to actually listen.

The role badgers play in spreading this disease has been massively exaggerated, and the impact of culling them has been completely misunderstood. The fact that keeping large numbers of cows in winter sheds can lead to a doubling in the number of infected animals shows again the simple truth that bTB is caused by cattle spreading it to other cattle. The impact of more frequent testing simply highlights the issue that many infected cows are currently being missed, and are thus spreading the disease without anyone realising. Find the infection, you’ll beat the disease.

Defra will no doubt dismiss this as irrelevant, because it doesn’t fit with their political strategy. The NFU are trying to claim that the cull has already reduced rates of TB in the area, but there’s no way they can be claiming that. Bovine TB rates are dropping across the whole of the south west – of which the cull zones are an utterly tiny part – and the reason for it can only be the increased testing and better cattle control measures brought in, reluctantly, by the government two years ago."

New figures seen yesterday from the Welsh badger vaccination programme also highlights just how exaggerated the impact of badgers has been.

• In 2014, 1316 badgers were vaccinated and all were returned to the wild in good health. None needed veterinary treatment in view of poor condition, none were found to have visible signs of TB

• After three years of the five year vaccination project, over 3,500 badgers have been vaccinated.  None have been found to have visible signs of TB, no badgers have been removed and euthanased as a result, all have been returned to the wild

• Between June 2013 and April 2014 the Welsh Government undertook a road kill survey of badgers in the Intensive Action Area (ie high risk TB area where vaccination is taking place). 30 badgers were collected and tested for TB, only 2 were found to have TB (early stage, no visible TB lesions) which is 7% of the total number of badgers tested

Dominic Dyer added:

“A poll in the Gloucester Post showed this week that two out of three people are against the badger cull being rolled out across the rest of the country. But this figure would be much higher if people weren’t being given the impression that huge numbers of badgers are infected, and weren’t told that culling them is vital to beating the disease. Huge numbers of badgers are not sick, and as we’ve been saying, and as this new research tells us, culling them is not vital, and in fact is not even useful. Wales has improved testing and cut the number of animals slaughtered for bTB by 50% – the answer is staring us in the face.”

A protest against the badger cull, as part of the Birmingham Wildlife Festival on Saturday 21st February, will be the 28th peaceful ‘Badger Army’ demonstration against the cull.

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