Mycobacterium bovis is a bacterium that can result in the disease Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB). Mainly infecting cattle, this disease has impacted the livelihood of farmers across the UK and remains a prominent issue that must be dealt with, nationwide.
In 1971, it was discovered that badgers are one of the primary carriers of bTB contributing to its spread across UK farms, and thus prompting the need for a solution. Securing farmland so that badgers cannot get near cattle, vaccination for badgers and cattle and other such methods have been previously been suggested to achieve this end. However problems such as cost, EU restrictions on cattle vaccines and difficulty of implementation have inhibited the success of these methods ergo, a more drastic solution of a badger cull was suggested.
On the 23rd October, 2012 it was announced that in the following year, badger culls would be conducted in order to attempt to mitigate the problem. This movement sparked both opposition and support as the farming community and those in favour of animal welfare expressed their contrasting opinions.
Opposition to the Badger Culls:
The badger culls were not uniformly a popular method of dealing of bTB. In September 2013, over 304,000 people had signed an e-petition against the badger culls taking place. On the 13th March 2014, 219 MPs backed a motion to encourage the government to vaccinate badgers and drop the culling scheme, following BBC reports that the culls had failed to be both effective and humane.
The pilot badger culls carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire also both failed to be ‘effective’. 70% of the resident badger population was aimed to be removed during the six-week trial but despite an overall extension of 8 weeks, only 65% and 39% of populations in each location respectively, were removed. This even had the potential to worsen the situation due to the concept of ‘perturbation effect’, prompting infected individuals to leave their usual territory and risk transmitting the disease even further.
Success in reducing bTB rates in 2012-2013 was most greatly witnessed in Wales, where an independent method of introducing stricter cattle measures and badger vaccinations saw a decrease of around 23.6% in infected cattle herds, involving no culling whatsoever. In contrast, Defra revealed that bTB cases had increased by 1.7% in England during the same amount of time, despite badger culls being carried out.
The Latest Information:
Recent studies are therefore now suggesting that vaccination schemes for badgers could actually be effective, practical and cost effective.
With the second year of badger culls set to begin in Somerset and Gloucestershire, The Wildlife Trusts are applying pressure to the government and associated industries to recognise the value of a nationally run badger vaccination scheme. Over the past 3 years, badger vaccination schemes have been trialled across Wildlife Trust nature reserves and privately-owned land, with the approval of relevant stakeholders.
The recently published badger vaccination report details the outcome of these trials including approximate costs, which so far appear to be around £380 per dose, although costs vary depending on the specifics of the sites on which vaccinations are to be carried out. Although costs in the first year of trials appear to be rather substantial (due to elements such as training, certification, equipment requirements etc.) vaccination schemes carried out across large areas can be far more cost effective if resources are shared, and can have much greater disease-control benefits for badger populations. The benefits of vaccination schemes can be furthermore enhanced by also delivering an efficient scheme of cattle measures.
Cattle measures could include more efficient biosecurity/disease risk management to prevent disease transmission within farms, stricter movement controls to minimise spread of disease during cattle transportation, improved TB testing and cattle vaccinations, with changes being made to EU regulations in order to permit commercial deployment.
The report cumulatively indicates that a carefully managed programme of badger vaccination could greatly contribute to the eradication of bTB in badgers, and as a result, also in cattle.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts (Wildlife Trusts, 2014) said:
“We have been working on the issue of bovine TB (bTB) and its links to badgers for many years. We work very closely with the farming community, as well as being significant farmers and landowners in our own right, and are very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes. Culling badgers is not the answer; it won’t significantly reduce disease prevalence in cattle and could even make the situation worse, due to the perturbation effect where the disease is spread by badgers moving between setts post-cull.”
“It is vital that we find the right mechanisms to control this disease and the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find an effective, long-term solution.
“We firmly believe that vaccination offers the most effective, long-term and sustainable approach to bTB in badgers, and there is a strong scientific evidence base supporting this view. However, addressing the disease in badgers can at best make a limited contribution to the eradication of bTB in cattle.
“Cattle to cattle transmission represents the most important route of disease spread, so it is vital that the main focus of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bTB remains on cattle measures, as this is where the most significant disease-control gains will be made.”
The subject remains to be a controversial issue; do you think is it more beneficial to continue carrying out the badger cull, or are alternative means such as vaccinations the right way forward?
For more information about the issue please see:
To read the latest badger vaccination report please use the following link:
To learn more about how you can contribute please click on the following link:
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