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April 2006 A letter in the Veterinary Record from Dr. John Gallagher and others

TB policy and the badger culling trials.

With reference to last weeks letter (Bourne et al. 2006 ) from the Independent Scientific Group on TB (ISG ) we feel the catastrophic problems surrounding the current TB policy are such that this requires a response.

The raison d’etre for the formation of this Group was to carry out the badger culling trials as recommended by Krebs (1997). Despite the huge logistical difficulties encountered and problems with animal rights activist interference, intimidation and lack of cooperation compromising its efficacy, it is understandable that the ISG wish to defend the findings of their trial.

However, DEFRA staff carried out the trapping as determined by the ISG and it is DEFRA which admitted that the overall trapping efficiency was remarkably poor at between 20 and 60 per cent (DEFRA 2005). The consequential social disruption and dispersal of infected badgers was found to have been very considerable . Thus these trials have been so badly compromised that extreme caution is required in their interpretation.

It is unfortunate that the ISG have disregarded earlier work on this subject but understandable as to admit the veracity of this work would have made the Krebs culling trials unnecessary. But it is folly not to heed such work as it was carried out to more exacting standards with regard to culling efficiency, being virtually 100 per cent in both the Thornbury and Steeple Leaze trials and over 80 percent in the East Offaly Trial and Hartland clearance (Gallagher et al 2006). The ISG’s trial was envisaged as a culling trial but as a result of the many problems encountered it turned out to be virtually a study of disruption and dispersal of badgers.

Based on many years of practical experience of tuberculous disease in cattle and badgers and its control we disagree with the ISG over their conclusions based on their trials and their recommendations for future control of TB in cattle. The ISG should be aware that TB has been eradicated from cattle in 23 of the 25 Member States of the European Community by test and slaughter. It was almost eradicated in this Country in 1986 when only 84 confirmed outbreaks were recorded before effective strategic culling of infected badgers ceased. Only Britain and Ireland have a problem and Ireland is making encouraging progress in tackling theirs. Whilst the huge carnage of cattle taken as TB reactors continues it is quite irrational for the ISG to assert that cattle to cattle transmission is the real problem.

We can assure this Group that until the badger maintenance host is effectively dealt with TB in cattle will not be controlled and certainly never eradicated.

This is also the agreed opinion of over 420 veterinarians mostly from the problem areas in the South West, South Wales and Sussex and dealing on farm with this problem. Considering there are now only about one thousand veterinarians in farm animal practice this represents a considerable body of informed opinion. These views were expressed in a jointly signed letter to the Secretary of State for DEFRA in February and June 2005. We consider that this problem is too serious to be put off track by views based on a trial with highly questionable results.

J. Gallagher
R.H. Muirhead