DEFRA advice to veterinary officials and their clients clearly shows that the government is well aware that badgers play a major role in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis.
Animal activists have disputed the badgers’ role in transmission of TB and DEFRA has always insisted testing and culling cattle are the main way to tackle the disease. The badgers’ role has been played down officially, with DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn saying he is “not convinced by the science” for a cull.
But the department’s advice is at odds with that official line. DEFRA has produced a CD giving advice on how to cut the risk of TB spreading. It is handing it out to farmers battling with the disease.
Of the 26 points, made in the Bovine TB Husbandry Best Practice guide, 23 focus directly on the risk of infection spread presented by badgers.
Just two points, at the end, are devoted to cattle-to-cattle transmission and there is a single point on pre-movement testing.
The CD also presses the point about the risk badgers pose, via 16 photographs and eight videos. The footage shows badgers entering farm buildings, scavenging among feed sacks, feeding from troughs and in nose-to-nose contact with cattle.
The content leaves no doubt that DEFRA knows how big a problem badger to cattle transmission is. And that has added to the anger and frustration of farmers.
West Country beef farmer Jilly Greed, whose herd has suffered a recent TB breakdown, said: “Behind the scenes DEFRA obviously knows how big a problem badgers represent. Why don’t they come out and say it?
“The science says cattle-to-cattle transmission accounts for just 1-2% of herd breakdowns. The remaining 98-99% of bovine TB is brought in from other sources. In other words it is brought in by badgers and this advice shows DEFRA knows that.”
Mrs Greed acts as a demonstration unit for best practice on biosecurity measures to control TB. But even so her herd has succumbed to the disease.
“We have been so effective at keeping badgers out of the buildings that we see no TB infections in the winter. This adds to the theory that cattle-to-cattle transmission is a minor infection route.
“It is at grass,when badgers and cattle mix, that infections occur.
“The disease is out of control. It will be beyond control unless something is done.”
- See all the DEFRA videos from the CD.