8 February 2000
Cull is PR disaster, admit scientists

By Isabel Davies

THE governments badger culling trial has been a public relations disaster, the group of independent scientists in charge of the experiment has admitted.

The trial was commissioned by the government to find out whether infected badgers are the cause of a dramatic rise in bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

But it has proved unpopular with farmers, environmentalists, and the media, confirms an interim report presented to agriculture minister Nick Brown.

The group of scientists overseeing the experiment, headed by John Bourne, expressed disappointment that so much media coverage had focused on the cull.

There was more to the governments TB programme than culling badgers, and epidemiological research was largely being ignored, says Prof Bournes report.

“Fixation with the trial, undoubtedly fuelled by pressure groups, has had the unfortunate effect of continually placing badger culling centre-stage,” it adds.

“This imbalance needs to be redressed vigorously.”

Prof Bourne said that failure to complete the trial and the rest of the governments work on the disease would leave the whole TB issue in “limbo”.

The trial has been intensely criticised by livestock farmers and wildlife conservationists since it started in August 1998.

Conservationists, such as the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG), believe the trial will prove nothing and should be abandoned

Farmers are worried that continued delays in implementing the trial mean it will be a long time before the results are known.

They also claim that the government has failed to adequately compensate farmers whose herds have suffered an outbreak TB.

The reports admits that any issue involving badgers is likely to be contentious, but believes understanding could be improved.

“No matter how logical, scientific and compelling are the arguments for our research strategy, certain organisations and individuals, by virtue of their own interests, are unable to accept it.”

In these cases, it is important to make sure that organisations, and not simply their representatives, have accurate information about the work, the report adds.

It recommends meetings with farmers, conservationists and other pressure groups to get across the logic of the trial study.