New research suggests badger culls make cattle TB worse

Humane Society International UK says it’s time for England’s farmers to pledge to protect rather than destroy badgers, as new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) suggests that even small-scale badger culling might increase rather than reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis. The study indicates that social stability in badger populations mitigates against disease spread, therefore farmers should be protecting not persecuting badgers on their land, says HSI UK.

The animal protection charity urges farmers across England to reject badger culling and become badger-friendly instead, because protecting the species is one of the best ways of mitigating the risk of infection spreading. HSI UK says farmers can be badger-friendly in three key ways:

> Not allowing badgers to be culled on their land under DEFRA’s policy;

> Actively facilitating badger vaccination on their land;

> Protecting badgers on their land from disturbance, including illegal persecution.

Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International UK, said: “This new research confirms what we and countless experts have been saying for years, that killing badgers is not an effective way of controlling TB in cattle, and could indeed make things worse not better for farmers. This is another huge blow to DEFRA’s plans to slaughter England’s badgers this summer and demonstrates yet again that the Government’s badger cull policy simply isn’t supported by the science and must be abandoned. It’s time now for farmers to recognise that leaving badgers alone whilst they get their own farming industry practices in order, is the best thing they can do to stem the tide of cattle TB infection. So we urge farmers to make a fresh start and pledge to be badger-friendly by protecting not persecuting badgers on their land. If they don’t, they may well be condemning themselves and their neighbours to an even worse cattle TB future.”

The PNAS paper looks at the impact of changes in badger behaviour that result from culling-induced perturbation. Surviving badgers are more likely to spread out into surrounding areas, and badgers from areas surrounding culling zones are more likely to move in to fill the ‘gaps’ created by culling. This increases the chances of contact between badgers from different social groups, and risks spreading infection more widely to previously uninfected badgers.

There is already good evidence to show that the proportion of infected badgers in an area increases following a cull, and this in turn potentially increases the risk of infection spreading from badgers to cattle.

This effect may occur even when the proportion of badgers killed is very low, or when attempts are made to select and kill only infected badgers, as with the ‘Test-Vaccinate/Remove’ or TVR pilot programme scheduled for Northern Ireland later this year. Illegal badger culling, which is feared to have increased under the cloak of government-controlled culls, is likewise expected to increase cattle TB risk.

By contrast, the research confirmed that cage trapping and vaccinating has value because while badger vaccination programmes may not eliminate infection from badger populations in the short term, they are likely to reduce the prevalence of infection in badgers without resulting in perturbation.

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