Saturday, 13 November 2010



Why killing badgers might not be "The final solution" we seek

I trust you will give this correspondence due consideration if for no reason other than I served on the Government Consultative Panel for three years and am the author of The Fate of the Badger (Batsford 1986). You may see therefore I am a long term student of the problem.

Not wishing to go over well-trodden ground, of which you must already be well aware, I shall concentrate on some points which will demonstrate why the planned ex-officio or proxy cull of badgers is misguided, uncivilised and dangerous. If we take each of those concerns separately, allowing for the moment that this is not solely an agricultural problem.


1. The most telling evidence is historic: on-farm intradermal tuberculin skin-testing ('Test & Slaughter') reduced bovine TB after the war in the National Herd to residual proportions. It was achieved without a single badger being targeted and effected a national no-cull zone. In 2008 Defra claimed, "Many countries have eradicated bTB through the systematic application of the tuberculin skin test alone and the slaughter of all test reactors" suggesting cow-to-cow transmission. Were this not so, badgers or any wildlife host would have been spreading the disease up to the 1970s just as it is claimed they are now, for badgers were widespread then, as now;

2. Cattle are kept far more intensively now than in the post-war period, and it is well established that TB is a stress-related disease;

3. However, looking at other evidence, impartial scientific opinion, including the Independent Scientific Group and your own vastly experienced principal scientist at Woodchester Park, Dr Chris Cheeseman, opposes a cull. In fact good science has always done so (cf. New Scientist articles in the 1970s and '80s);

4. An inevitably haphazard unco-ordinated campaign by non-qualified amateurs is a desperate response to manipulated vehement farming opinion which demands, "Something has to be done". This is insane and a recipe for disaster and widespread cruelty;

5. Badgers have been singled out because they are large, recognisable and live in settled communities which makes many (but crucially not all) relatively easy to find and catch (and see #3 under next heading);

6. A badger suffering from bovine TB maybe like the miners' canary, and should be valued in the same way. Video evidence shows cattle avoiding badger products (i.e. soiled pasture), whereas badgers of course target cowpats for the insects inside and underneath. It is not difficult to see the most likely direction of bacterial transmission;

7. Even if this is denied, it is a scientific truism that the more you look the more you find. The corollary is also true: if you do not look, you won't find. So in concentrating on the badger other potential hosts are ignored or only cursorily examined, eg. feral cats, rats, deer, hedgehogs, moles etc, not to mention possible mechanical vectors such as corvids and starlings. So where do you stop...?


1. We cannot lecture the rest of the world on conservation while killing off a protected species because its presence is seen as a nuisance;

2. Killing things on suspicion or circumstantial evidence is never a civilised answer to a problem. Since dead-stock is a live-stock farmer's end product they are immured to a throughput of animals. However low priced beef and milk is hardly a reason to destroy wildlife which has been a part of our heritage for much longer;

3. It's a human failure, but just as in a bad TV detective thriller so in bad science, the badger became 'prime suspect' and consequently evidence has to fit this theory (cf. #5 above);

4. If intensive farming was discouraged by consumers having to pay a fair price for food (perhaps not assuming an innate right to eat cheap meat every day), we could encourage a healthier human population and return to civilised farming which causes animals less stress and paid farmers a fair return for their work - work which would incidentally be more pleasant for them too;

5. There are farmers out there, often organic and small scale, some with closed herds, who have other views. They should be sought and listened to as well;

6. If all else fails, vaccination of cattle as for humans, is the only civilised and practical response to this problem. “The best prospect for control of TB in the British herd is to develop a cattle vaccine” – Krebs Report (1997); £18 million was spent showing that vaccinating young calves was effective. TB is a treatable disease. With an effective DIVA test (Differentiate between Infected and Vaccinated Animals) only EU law prevents this.


1. Collectively, farmers proclaim simple views loudly but most do not have the time, expertise or scientific curiosity to investigate the epidemiology of a complex disease such as TB so it is not surprising that they seek a simple 'final solution'. They were fed the idea by the NFU and old MAFF for a long time that the badger is villain not victim it is not surprising that they now urge its eradication from large tracts of our countryside;

2. It is 'Our' countryside and farmers claim to be its stewards. It appears as cant to claim on one hand that there are too many badgers while on the other shedding crocodile tears about diseased badgers. Again this reveals ignorance of ecological dynamics: disease is a natural in wild populations and TB in particular reduces where there is less stress: peturbation lessens and ecosystems recover;

3. The TB bacillus is endemic in the countryside, affecting a huge range of species and can never be entirely eradicated as it can under proper agricultural control;

4. Bovine TB is therefore an agricultural problem and the solution lies within agriculture. Killing badgers is a political decision not scientific one;

5. Government and agricultural communities need to realise that none of the above will be ignored by conservation and animal welfare bodies or the wider general public. I forsee a storm of public repugnance, civil disobedience and interference while the reputation of farmers sinks even lower.

Yours faithfully

Dr Richard Meyer



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