Chief vet enters fray on badger cull

Comments purportedly written by government chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens on the 38 Degrees website are genuine, DEFRA has confirmed.

Mr Gibbens posted a message on campaign group’s website in a bid to set the record straight on the science behind a badger cull. He wrote the comments after 38 Degrees launched its campaign against the cull last Friday (29 July).

“As DEFRA’s chief veterinary officer, I’d like to correct some of the serious inaccuracies I’ve seen here,” said Mr Gibbens. “The Randomised Badger Culling Trial shows conclusively that badgers contribute significantly to bovine TB in cattle.”

A badger cull could reduce the incidence of bovine TB in a 150sq km local area by an estimated 16%, equating to 47 cattle herd breakdowns prevented. “The estimated benefit was agreed by a group of eminent scientists,” said Mr Gibbens.

Culling would only be part of the solution. Cattle measures – including testing and surveillance, movement restrictions and the removal and slaughter of infected cattle – would remain the foundation of the TB eradication programme.

Mr Gibbens said DEFRA believed vaccines should be part of the solution too, “but so far we don’t have a workable one”. The benefits would take a long time to be seen – by which time the growing bovine TB problem would be much worse.

“The best option would be a usable oral badger vaccine, which we’re working hard to develop, but a useable vaccine is much further away than we thought and although this remains a research priority, it may never be ready for wide-scale use.”

Anti-cull campaigner Chris Gale said the chief vet’s comments were “a sign of panic” and selective in the information included. Mr Gibbens should explain why “most of the scientific community are advising against a cull”.

But 38 Degrees campaigns director Hannah Lownsbrough thanked Mr Gibbens for posting on the website. She has sinced invited him to participate in a short question and answer session.

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