Badger cull not answer

29 January 1999




Badger cull not answer

By Jeremy Hunt

ALTHOUGH dairy farmers find it frustrating, there is still insufficient evidence to warrant a national badger cull as a means of controlling TB in cattle.

Dr Sarah Feore, a zoologist with the faculty of veterinary science at Liverpool University, told a meeting at the vet school that removing badger colonies as a means of control could well exacerbate TB spread instead of reducing infection risk.

"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.

"Substantial government funding into TB in cattle has now been allocated more directly towards the badger link and hopefully the new research underway on a site in Gloucestershire, instigated by the Krebs report, will yield valuable information on methods of transmission," Dr Feore told north-west farmers attending a meeting of the facultys Cattle Health Forum at Leahurst, Wirral, Cheshire.

Understanding ecology

Explaining to producers that she too wanted a solution to the problem of badgers and the TB link, she said it was important that everyone with badger colonies on their farm understands the animals ecology.

"Removing entire groups of badgers would only lead to re-colonisation, possibly replacing uninfected badgers with infected ones. Badgers live in groups. They are territorial but even over the 20-year study of a high density badger population in Gloucestershire some have been found to have TB and others have not. Why that is so is still unclear but its just one reason why mass culling is not the solution."

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. 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 the four-yearly testing for TB in cattle could have meant that TB was already present in some herds but had remained undetected and was not linked to a rise in the local badger population.

Dr Feore believed more research was needed into why only certain badger colonies in the south-west were infected with TB. "Pockets of badger populations have remained stable and TB-free for a long time while others have not. We must find out why and examine the epidemiological factors that could be involved.

"Is soil type, climate, topography or even high rainfall associated with TB in badgers? Is there a difference in the pathogenicity of TB in badgers which could affect the level of infection? Where herds are infected is it something to do with the way they are managed; perhaps swards are over-grazed, encouraging cattle to eat from field margins and possibly increasing infection risk.

Implications

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

Dr Feore exolained that cows could only contract TB through pulmonary infection via the lungs. "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 occurred but were not a TB risk warranted more investigation to study a whole range of ecological implications which may be vital in formulating an effective method of TB control.

"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. In fact in Oxfordshire it has been proved that disturbance to a colony actually increased the TB problem."

set in box please

TB MEETING

* Understand badger ecology

* Badgers not spreading north

* Culling not a solution

ends

TBMEETING

&#8226 Understand badger ecology.

&#8226 Badgers not spreading north.

&#8226 Culling not a solution.


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