Badger cull research causes confusion

DEFRA and farm industry leaders have admitted to being puzzled by the release of research on a badger culling policy which was dismissed as a TB control method five years ago.

The study, published by Imperial College London, pans the use of badger culling as a method of controlling TB.

It revisits so-called reactive culling, which was studied as part of the randomised badger culling trial between 1998 and 2006.

The policy caused TB-infected badgers to move outwards from the cull area, spreading the disease to cattle farms on the peripheries of the trial.

The new analysis of trial figures found that the presence of any reactive culling activity in the previous year within 1km of a herd more than doubled the risk of bovine TB.

But an NFU spokesman expressed surprise at the timing of the release, just days before government is expected to make an announcement on a badger cull.

“We know reactive culling does not work. The effect was so severe it was stopped before the trial had ended.”

“And that is why the government consultation on badger culling did not consider it,” the spokesman said.

“Instead, the consultation paper proposed sustained and thorough culling over areas of 150sq km or more in TB hotspot areas, the spokesman added.

“You simply cannot compare the two policies as a method of TB control in cattle. So why has Imperial released this data now, at a time which will cause confusion about the value of a cull?” he asked.

A DEFRA spokesman added: “This research looks at the effects of reactive badger culling on cattle – that is, only culling badgers where TB breakdowns in cattle herds occur.

“The findings are consistent with the approach set out in last year’s consultation, which did not propose reactive culling.

“Professor Donnelly’s work on proactive badger culling has shown that the benefits have continued in the years since the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, while the negative effects of perturbation disappeared soon after culling stopped.”

But anti-cull campaigners the Badger Trust said the findings underlined the dangers inherent in attempts to control bovine TB by killing badgers.

Trust chairman David Williams said: “This is yet another warning to the government. It reinforces what we already know from the culling trials – that localised culling makes matters worse – and it underlines the message from top scientists that badger culling is not the way forward.”

Farmers Weekly has set up a dedicated channel for all stories connected to proposals for a badger cull.

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