Badgers, bTB and informed comment by Nick Fenwick
(See also Alistair Drivers summary at www.farmersguardian.com)
19th May 2012 ~ Chosen quotations from the contribution of Dr Nick Fenwick, Director of Agricultural Policy at the FUW (from yesterday's bTB debate at the Farmers Guardian)
On the impact of the disease on farmers
"The impact of bTB has been described by our Chief Vet as like the 2001 Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in slow motion, and that's about as accurate a description of the problem as you can get: It tears people's lives apart both economically and emotionally, only the effects go on for years.
Watching animals you have reared from birth, some just days old, some decades old, being taken away or culled on the farmyard is something which effectively happens on a daily basis in Wales, and the emotions these cause every day are no different to those which were broadcast nightly during the 2001 FMD outbreak.
Our staff regularly have to deal with people who are in tears and devastated about what is happening to their livestock....
Loss to farming
.... young people who have watched their parents going through this for years, not surprisingly, decide to move away from their communities and do something apart from farming."
Following the publication of the ISG report, the key arguments against culling were economic ones
- i.e. yes you could cull in a way which has the overall impact of lowering incidences, but the overall cost-benefit was negative. The effects were far more longlasting than many had thought they would be, so the results got better and better... the negative impact of perturbation became positive, and by around years 4-6 confirmed incidences were down by 40-50 % ...Taking the overall impact over the entire period studied is misleading. For example, while the latest figures show an overall reduction in confirmed herd incidences in the RBCT culling areas of around 26%, at the peak of the impact, after around 4 years of culling, confirmed incidences were 40-50% lower. The clear intention in north Pembrokeshire WAS to ensure cattle measures complemented, sustained, and enhanced this impact. .... also there are a whole host of figures we do not know about the RBCT's impact. - duration of breakdowns, rate coming out of restrictions, the reductions in number of cattle culled per outbreak - there is a host of further work to do. .....The initial data from the RBCT suggested that the high success rate of culling at the centre of culling areas (reductions in confirmed herd incidences close to 50%) compared with close to the boundaries (closer to 20%) was attributable to "the [higher] degree to which badger population densities were reduced at greater distances from the culling area boundary."
The fact that some culling occurred outside trial areas, in a way which might be describes as 'reactive' culling, and that incidences in these areas initially increased, just as they did in reactive culling areas, suggests that a uniformly and efficiently implemented cull could lead to reductions far higher than the overall ones seen in RBCT areas....Certainly all the scientific evidence we have shows the Welsh culling policy would have resulted in major benefits....For years we have been saying that half the source of bTB (badgers) has been ignored, while many wildlife groups said badgers were innocent and scapegoats.
The latest figures we have regarding the proportion of cattle TB attributable to badgers (produced by Donnelly - a former ISG member - and Hone) is almost exactly 50%. Donnelly's figures give 50% - they are the latest ones based upon the latest ISG analysis. ..I believe Donnelly's comment simply reflects a developing understanding, and highlights why many of the ISG's 'conclusions' were extremely premature.
In the absence of a wildlife reservoir cattle controls eradicate TB
as happened previously in the UK and has happened in Scotland. ....quite rightly the EU will not change the law without evidence, and they cannot understand why the UK is obsessed with avoiding tackling the disease reservoir. In other countries they would simply sort the badger problem out ...I understand that in Australia they had a wildlife problem in the form of feral cattle which were culled as part of the eradication programme in some areas
...FUW policy is that camelids should be treated the same as cattle.
one concern which is a good reason why far more trials need to be carried out before vaccination is rolled out as a policy is the possibility that vaccination will increase badger numbers and, on the whole, increase the disease reservoir (and pressure on other wildlife). According to the authors of the 1997 badger survey report, increases in adult survivorship of 18% per annum can lead to a 75% population increase in six years. So while we all hope that our scepticism over vaccination and the results of the computer modelling will be proven wrong, we also have to take into account the possibility that vaccination could increase the size of the disease reservoir. After all, a badger excreting half as much infection but living twice as long is just as infectious and is also rearing more cubs!
....Vaccination, if used at all, should be used around culling areas (ring vaccination) and to keep low incidence areas free of disease...The computer modelling shows that ring vaccination around culling areas is the best policy in terms of reducing bTB incidences
On comparative cost
The figures published by the Welsh Government project vaccination in north Pembrokeshire as costing £5.7 million, and leading to a saving of £2.3 million - in other words, an overall loss of almost £3.5 million.
The estimated cost of a cull in the same area is £5 million, leading to a projected saving of between £5 and £6 million - i.e. a net benefit.
So many of those who relied heavily on an anti cull argument based purely on economics (rather than our overarching moral and legal obligations to control disease) are now doing precisely the opposite, and arguing for the most expensive policy to be implemented...an extra predicted bill for the taxpayer of 3.5 million compared with the previous policy
Positive Discrimination for Badgers
I find the positive discrimination that badgers enjoy compared with other mammals totally incomprehensible and illogical; like most other rural dwellers, I live in an area where (and this is confirmed by successive national badger surveys) badger numbers have exploded. As a child I enjoyed going badger watching; by now my own children are indifferent to them as they see them every day.
If deer are found in the area, they are basically eliminated (i.e. local extinction) due to the damage they cause to trees, and this is generally accepted. Yet if you mention just reducing the badger population to what it was in, say, the mid 1980s, the reaction is extreme. There is no logic to this discrimination, particularly as badgers are estimated to cause 50% of TB outbreaks in high incidence areas, and also have a severe impact on other species. As the eminent ecologist Pat Morris put it, ignoring the impact that increases in badger numbers have on other species or "pretending that badgers exist by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn't help at all."