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27 February 2003
Badgers and TB in Cattle:
the view of a dairy farmer
Land-Care is grateful to the author
and to www.warmwell.com for agreeing to the reproduction of this
It was published by Warmwell on 18th Feb 2003 (www.warmwell.com).
Although the article was originally
written a year ago its content
is highly relevant today.
Bovine TB: A Black and White Issue?
As the Krebs trials begin again, a casual observer
of the situation could be forgiven for thinking that the link between
badgers and bovine TB was a new occurrence which needed quantifying.
But for nearly 30 years, taxpayers money has paid for learned
professors to re-invent the ecological wheel, only to have successive
governments sanitise the results, under pressure from single species
activists, or universities in need of further research grants.
Many trials have been done (some are ongoing),
but all have shown a drop in incidence of cattle TB of between 91
- 100% if infected badgers were removed. No action on other wildlife
species was taken, and no alteration to farm practices advised.
In the Irish Republic, trials similar to Krebs concluded in an interim
statement issued January 1999, there is very little choice
but to take out the badgers, where cattle TB is endemic.
In 1980, after his review of the situation, Prof.
Zuckerman noted with regret that after the suspension of badger
control, cattle TB had increased. He also commented that culling
reactor cattle while taking no action on the acknowledged reservoir
of infection in the badgers was a waste of time, and of taxpayers
money. Yet in on May 8th. 1997, the current government, in receipt
of £1 million from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL), ignored
that advice and repeated the ban on badger culling.
The results and costs of which our farmers have
had to bear is an exponential rise in cattle TB. In 1988, MAFF slaughtered
782 cattle as reactors or contacts after TT testing.
A year after the cessation of badger control,
1998s figure was 6086, and by mid February 2002, (after little
testing in 2001 due to FMD) the 3 year total was 31,326 - over 10,000
per year. Ministry number crunching will dispute this figure by
breaking it down into a) Reactors to the TT test, b) Dangerous contacts
at "severe interpretation", or c) Lesioned at postmortem
cattle. But a dead cow is still dead, and the numbers I have quoted
are Maffs for cattle slaughtered. Some may argue that the
TT test is flawed, but it is in use world wide, and does not indicate
infection but exposure to M.
bovis, which may or may not go on to develop into full blown
An alternative source of infection has to be suggested
if the badger is excluded. If cattle are presumed to be that hidden
source of undiscovered TB, then a large reservoir must exist to
transmit and spread the disease which is not flagged up by the TT
test. But every carcass, including cattle going on the OTMS (Over
Thirty Month Scheme) for destruction, has to pass a Meat Hygiene
inspection. In the 4 years before the moratorium on badger control,
up to 3.4 million cattle per year were slaughtered and inspected.
Of those, 55124 suspicious samples were taken and tested by the
MHS. Just 22 - 27 proved positive.
Prof. Bourne describes his trials
as the last chance to prove a link and validate
a control area. But two of the three options are likely to
prove unacceptable. i.e., no action, or the complete elimination
of badgers. Predictably the trials have polarised opinions. Our
farms are battlegrounds, with farmers and Maff/Defra operatives
the butt of violence, threats and intimidation by single species
activists who have accorded the badger cult status and
his ancestral home a grade 1 listing. Politicians obviously see
more votes in a dead badger than in a dead cow.
Dr. Elaine King of the National Federation of
Badger Groups (NFBG), describes progress made by the
TB forum, with a holistic approach to cattle TB, encompassing
minerals, farming practise and cattle to cattle transmission. But
if infected badgers are removed, that approach accounts for just
0 - 9%. It is however the target of much of Defras budget.
But West Country naturalist and trustee of the
Somerset Wildlife Trust, Dr. Willie Stanton, in a damning indictment
of what he describes as a Magic Circle of badger preservationists,
describes a huge increase in badger numbers, given the protection
the species now enjoys and the lack of any natural predator. He
points out that in practice, as well as the problems with cattle
TB, this means inoffensive UK residents of our countryside, such
as hedgehogs, slow worms, bumblebees, toads, grass snakes, grey
partridge, lapwing and larks - all treasured by a balanced ecology
- are being sought out as food by the omnivorous badger and in some
areas, have been exterminated.
The badger is not a scapegoat. It is a known and
acknowledged reservoir of a pathogen in the same group as E.
coli 0157. Global health experts are reported as being extremely
concerned at the UKs lack of control of the problem
within badgers. Cattle testing is a sentinel of the amount of M.
bovis in the countryside.
With the knowledge of how resilient the bacterium
is (Dr. Kings own research showed it survives up to 11 months
when suspended in badger urine, on damp grass) and how virulent
(300,00 units of M. bovis in
just 1 ml of urine from a badger with kidney lesions), it isnt
difficult to see why US health experts are worried, and why HSE
recommend protective clothing, masks and specialist laboratories
for dealing with badger carcasses or habitat. An explosion of human
TB is their forecast for the UK within the next 3 decades, as our
population have contact with M. bovis
from wildlife sources, but wall up the lesions, only to have TB
develop in later life when their immune system is under pressure
from other infections. After a gap of more than 20 years, BCG jabs
have been re introduced for teenagers.
As a working farmer, I have listened to the NFBG
and Dr. Elaine King. I have hung minerals on metal gates, installed
high water troughs, not grazed silage headlands and kept a closed
herd, (i.e. one that is completely home bred) for the last 6 years.
Herd health is excellent, and we vaccinate for BVD (Bovine Viral
Diarrhoea), which is suspected of compromising cattle test results.
We test the cattle annually, and have no contact with any other
cattle, being ring fenced by roads, woods or rivers.
All very healthy, bio-secure and holistic.
Did it protect us? Not a chance. TB is now raging
through our herd, which was established in 1908, and accredited
(TB free) in 1952. So where do we go from here?
Dr. Chris Cheeseman of Woodchester Parks
badger heaven was asked the same question at a Cheshire
meeting. His reply shocked his audience.
He said You cant farm with infected
badgers, get rid of your cattle.
Well the Ministry are certainly doing that. Three
super young cows will be shot next week. All home bred, as were
their mothers (2 are still in the herd, at 10 years old ). Two of
them are heavily in calf. Their unborn calves will die too. Obscene.
No lesions have been found yet, and Maff have
been unable to culture TB from previous carcasses.
Our source of exposure is badgers, but our cows
are still dead.
Concern for animals can be very selective.
Further Reading Recommended by Land-Care
Zuckerman, Lord. (1980). Badgers, Cattle and Tuberculosis. HMSO,
Plan to cull NI badgers. BBC News online. 31 July, 2002. Click
here to view.
Political Animal Lobby: www.hounds.org.uk/e-pal.htm
National Federation of Badger Groups: www.nfbg.org.uk
Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB (1998-present).
(Filed 27 February 2003, www.land-care.org.uk,
click here to view).
The Krebs Report (1997) and the Independent Scientific Review Group.
(Filed 27 February 2003, www.land-care.org.uk,
click here to view).
Irvine, W. J. (2003). Just how bad is the TB problem in UK Cattle?
(Filed 25 February 2003, www.land-care.org.uk,
Incidents of TB in Cattle in Scotland, 1995-2002.
(Filed 26 February 2003, www.land-care.org.uk,
here to view).
Cultybraggan Farm Diary (2002). Routine testing of Cultybraggan
cattle for Tuberculosis and Brucellosis, November 2002: All results
(Filed 26 November 2002, www.land-care.org.uk,
here to view).