29 January 1999
‘Culling badgers not the answer’

By Jeremy Hunt

DAIRY farmers may find it frustrating, but there is still insufficient evidence to warrant a national badger cull as a means of controlling tuberculosis in cattle.

According to Dr Sarah Feore, a zoologist at Liverpool University, removing badger colonies to control bovine TB could well exacerbate the problem.

“Some badgers do carry TB and they are a potential source of infection to cattle, but it is still unclear what the extent of that risk is,” she told farmers at a meeting in Cheshire.

Explaining to producers that she too wanted a solution to the problem of badgers and the TB link, Dr Feore said it was important everyone understands the animals ecology.

“Removing entire groups of badgers would only lead to re-colonisation, possibly replacing uninfected badgers with infected ones,” she said.

Although it is widely believed that badgers have been spreading northwards in recent years, particularly through Shropshire and into Cheshire, Dr Feore refuted the claim.

“There has not been a front of badgers heading northwards,” she said.

“While it appears that badgers are turning up in areas where they were not seen previously, evidence suggests an increase in social group density rather than a march north.

“It could be that improved food sources are linked to this increase in numbers and the spread of maize growing may have contributed to that.”

Producers at the meeting were told it was possible for badger numbers to increase without a parallel rise in the risk of TB infection.

The change to four-yearly testing of cattle for TB could mean that TB has remained undetected and is not linked to a rise in the local badger population, she said.

Dr Feore believes more research is needed into why only certain badger colonies in the south-west are infected with TB.

“Pockets of badger populations have remained stable and TB-free for a long time while others have not,” she said.

“The final solution to the badger/TB problem will probably be based on a control strategy taking account of a number of ecological implications.”

Cows can only contract TB through pulmonary infection via the lungs, explained Dr Feore.

“Perhaps climatic changes which have produced milder winters have had an effect, by enabling infected bacilli from badger faeces and urine to remain a source of risk at a time when they would normally have been killed off in cold weather.”

Areas where badgers occur but are not a TB risk warrant more investigation which may be vital in formulating an effective method of TB control, she added.

“I appreciate how dairy farmers feel and although it may appear that culling is the answer, it is simply not a logical solution.

“Where culling has been carried out it has not led to a reduction in the incidence of TB.”