Badger cull on hold–for now
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2012: (Actually published on November 1, 2012.)
LONDON–Seeking to eradicate the alleged bovine tuberculosis reservoir in badgers, sharpshooters hired by Gloucestershire and Somerset dairy farmers were to begin trying to kill 70% of the badgers on their land on September 17 and October 4, 2012, respectively.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press on October 30, 2012 however, the cull was on indefinite hold. Environment secretary Owen Paterson on October 24 told the House of Commons that the cull would be delayed until mid-2013. The next morning Paterson walked out of a five-hour House of Commons debate that ended in a 147-28 non-binding vote against the cull. Of the 650 House members, 175 cast ballots on the motion, brought in response to a 150,000-signature petition opposing the cull, submitted by rock-and-roll star Brian May.
. The cull had already been delayed by an October 20 legal notice served by the Badger Trust on Natural England, the government agency licensing the cull participants. Natural England was given “a final chance to address the Badger Trust’s concerns before the latter seeks a judicial review–and an injunction, if needed–to halt the cull,” reported Damian Carrington of The Guardian.
. “The costs of the cull are soaring out of control,” to more than £1 million even before any badgers were shot, “with little benefit in sight for farmers and major risks posed for members of the public in the cull areas,” warned solicitor Gwendolen Morgan, representing the Badger Trust. “It is time for the government to reconsider,” Morgan said.
. Assessed Carrington, “The delayed cull appears at serious risk of being abandoned,” following Parliamentary recognition that nearly twice as many badgers live in the culling zones as the government had estimated in doing a cost/benefit analysis. “A Whitehall (Parliamentary) source told The Guardian that because the killing costs have to be borne by farmers and landowners, National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall feels the cull may now be too expensive to carry out, given the higher badger numbers,” Carrington continued. “The government’s own impact assessment had already shown that carrying out the cull will cost more than it saves. But a spokesperson for the NFU said they did not recognize that view from Kendall. Environment secretary Owen Paterson and farming minister David Heath added to the confusion by canceling a series of media interviews.”
. “Paterson is a fervent supporter of the cull,” Carrington noted.
. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs projects that the badger cull “will cost £300 per square kilometer a year,” reported Emily Beament of the Press Association. “For Gloucestershire this would be an estimated £360,000 over four years.”
. Claiming losses of £91 million in 2011 alone, incurred by culling 26,000 cattle due to bovine TB exposure, and similar losses in 2010, reimbursed by British taxpayers, the NFU, the British Veterinary Association, the British Cattle Veterinary Association, and DEFRA have long sought authorization to kill badgers. They appeared to have won their way on July 12, 2012 and again on September 11, 2012, when High Court and appellate rulings allowed the cull to proceed.
. Natural England began issuing badger culling permits, but solicitor Morgan on October 20, 2012 cautioned Natural England on behalf of The Badger Trust that because of “a number of [alleged] serious flaws in the licensing processŠWe have advised our clients that the licences granted are unlawful.”
. Summarized Carrington, “The Trust argues that the public’s legal right to safety is put at risk by the fact that no barriers or warnings will be posted around the cull areas, meaning people using publicly accessible land could walk into the shooting area.”
. “We are considering the letter and will respond in due course,” a Natural England spokesperson told media.
Time running out
“As winter approaches, time is fast running out for the cull to begin,” Carrington explained, “because badgers lie low in their setts in cold weather. Farmers must kill at least 70% of all the badgers over six weeks because otherwise escaping badgers spread TB further and increase infections. Farmers are required to deposit enough money to fund the entire four-year cull” prescribed by the government “before beginning, because failing to complete the entire cull is near certain to increase bovine TB.”
. The sharpshooters are to be paid a bounty for presenting badger carcasses to Natural England.
. The judicial reviews that authorized culling “considered only legal arguments,” Carrington wrote. “The government accepted that a nine-year trial had shown that fleeing badgers carried TB to new areas. That trial found that, at best, TB incidence was reduced in the cull area by just 16% after nine years. The government also accepted the culls could cost farmers more than doing nothing.”
. The 1973 Badgers Act, amended into the Protection of Badgers Act in 1992, allows culling to “prevent the spread of disease,” but the scientific evidence that killing badgers helps to control bovine TB is unclear and much disputed.
. “For over three decades European badgers have been culled by the British government in a series of attempts to limit the spread of Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis,” commented Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases wildlife moderator Pablo Beldominico, a member of the veterinary faculty at Universi-dad Nacional de Litoral, Argentina. “Despite these efforts, the incidence of TB in cattle has risen consistently. Studies have reached contrasting conclusions, with culled areas showing either markedly reduced or increased incidence of TB in cattle. Furthermore, a study showed that culling reduces cattle TB incidence in the areas that are culled, but increases incidence in adjoining areas. The detrimental effects of culling detected on neighboring land are initially substantial,” Beldominico speculated, “but may become less strong on later culls.”
. Thirty-two leading British scientists petitioned the government to stop the cull, including Lord John Krebs, the biologist who led the nine-year culling trial, ended in 2006. “I would go down the vaccination and biosecurity route, rather than [pursue] this crazy scheme that may deliver a very small advantage,” Krebs told the BBC.
. Noted Carrington, “The government has refused to release numerous documents under freedom of information rules, including advice from the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington, and communication with the National Farmers Union. The latter was blocked on the grounds that it was ‘internal communication’.”
. An estimated 3,400 badgers would be killed in each of two areas the size of the Isle of Wight, under the current culling scheme, and the shooting would be repeated up to 10 times per year. “The Badger Trust claims that the scheme could lead to 40,000 animals being ‘pointlessly killed’ over the next four years.” Carrington said. “If the government calls the trials a success,” Carrington added, the cull will be extended to other areas where bovine TB occurs, “and is expected to end the lives of 70,000 to 105,000 badgers, from an entire United Kingdom population estimated at 300,000.”
“We believe culling is not a long-term sustainable solution,” said Royal SPCA spokesperson David Bowles. “It is not as if there are not alternatives to a cull. Vaccination could be more effective and sustainable.”
. Badger vaccination programs are underway in place of culling in Wales, as result of lawsuits and a change of government. Badger vaccination is also being tested by the National Trust in Devon, by the Wildlife Trust in Gloucestershire, and by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on sanctuary property at Highnam Woods in Gloucestershire, “just outside the pilot cull area,” noted Beament of the Press Association.
. “There is currently no oral vaccine available for badgers, and no vaccine for cattle,” Beament continued.
. Added Carrington, “The previous Labour government said an oral badger vaccine would be ready by 2015. ” However, the Conservative-led coalition governing the U.K. since May 2010 “cancelled five of the six scheduled trials of injectable vaccines and Caroline Spelman,” who preceded Paterson as environment secretary, “says a useable oral vaccine is ‘years away’.”
. Should the current Badger Trust appeal fail to stop the cull, the cull might be suspended by a complaint to the Council of Europe brought in January 2012 by Humane Society International, the global division of the Humane Society of the U.S.
. HSI contends that culling badgers violates the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. “Badgers are listed as the lowest ranking of protected species under CITES–Appendix III–which allows for species to be culled or hunted, provided certain methods are used and the ‘ecological characteristics’ of the species are not affected,” explained Adam Vaughan of The Guardian.
. “It seems unlikely the committee would take a formal decision on whether to declare a breach. They would ask for it to be investigated further if there was a suspicion,” an unidentified Council of Europe spokesperson told Vaughan.
World Society for the Protection of Animals director general Mike Baker has since 2010 made common cause with British dairy farmers, “to keep our dairy cows in fields, not in factories,” as WSPA appeals have put it. WSPA under Baker has not taken a position against culling badgers. But “Those who care will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badgers’ blood,” Royal SPCA chief executive Gavin Grant told media. “Dairy consumers should be saying: I will not buy milk from areas where they are culling. Landowners and farmers allowing this to happen on their land have to realize there will be commercial consequences,” Grant emphasized.
. Responded Paterson, “It is very important that those organisations which under statute are charities [should] conduct themselves as charities. If they want to become political campaigning organisations, that may change the nature of their organization. They have to be wary about that.”
. Founded in 1824, the RSPCA received a royal charter from Queen Victoria in 1840. The charter requires that RSPCA work must benefit humans as well as animals. This has at times inhibited advocacy–but Grant did not back down, called Paterson’s thinly veiled threat and similar comments by National Farmers Union deputy president Meurig Raymond “completely, simply factually incorrect. It is very clear,” Grant continued. “As with all charities, we have a responsibility to advocate in accordance with our charitable purposes. And that is precisely what we are doing.”
. The RSPCA subsidiary Freedom Food warned the 3,000 farmers who sell meat, milk and eggs from animals raised in Freedom Food-certifed high-welfare conditions that “Freedom Food would regard it as unacceptable for any member to voluntarily take part in a badger cull. To do so would bring the scheme into disrepute and would be a clear breach of the membership agreement, resulting in suspension.”
. “The NFU takes this threat to its members very seriously. Our lawyers are currently looking at this in detail,” said NFU director of policy Martin Haworth.
. Haworth alleged that Freedom Food “fully supports culling as a routine practice for deer, for example, with 350,000 removed annually. The same goes for rats and rabbits. Have Freedom Food members ever been suspended on these grounds? In this light, we can’t help but see the Freedom Food letter on badger culling as hypocritical.”
. “Aside from the fact that Freedom Food farms do not use lethal means of controlling deer,” RSPCA spokesperson Bowles told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “there is a major difference between shooting deer to control them and shooting badgers. First, the badger is a protected species, and we do not believe that control is necessary to control bovine TB. Second, the badger is a much more difficult species to shoot humanely, as it is closer to the ground and more difficult to shoot in the area of the body that will guarantee a humane kill. There have never been any trials of killing badgers, unlike deer, so the badger cull is a test to see if it is possible to kill badgers humanely. The RSPCA does not believe that undertaking trials to assess humaneness of killing badgers that the government is recommending is a good way to proceed. The NFU are being disingenious,” Bowles continued. “The figure they give for deer–350,000–is the total shot each year in the U.K. We have never found deer to be an issue with Freedom food farms,” Bowles added, “and where there are problems with tree damage, we use fences. There has never been any shooting of deer on Freedom Food farms.”
Should a badger cull proceed, “Volunteers plan to patrol the cull zones wearing high-visibility jackets and using powerful torches and megaphones to try to make it impossible for the trial culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire to take place,” reported Carrington and Steven Morris of The Guardian. “Raves and other music events are also being proposed, to focus attention on the cull and make it more difficult to carry out.”
. While badgers are the wildlife species most suspected of harboring bovine TB, ProMED zoonotic disease moderator Arnon Shimshony, of the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, advised ProMED members that “Deer are included among other species affected by bovine TB in the U.K. According to the annual report of the U.K. chief veterinary officer for 2009, Mycobacterium bovis was confirmed in 19 of 52 notified deer carcasses, 18 of which were from wild deer populations, and one case from a farmed deer. This was significantly lower than in alpacas,” among whom Mycobacterium bovis was confirmed in 68 of 123 submissions. In cats,” Shimshony continued, “27 were positive out of 104 submissions. Out of 116 domestic pigs submitted for TB examination, 23 were found infected. There were nine sheep submissions, with 5 positives.”
. The breadth of interspecies distribution suggests that only vaccination can effectively control or eradicate bovine TB. BBC News Cornwall meanwhile reported that “A woman from Redruth, Cornwall, who received an award for her campaign for compulsory tuberculosis testing of alpacas has contracted the illness. She had eight of the animals put down in 2008-09 when they tested positive for bovine TB. She said she believed she contracted the disease from the animals, and is undergoing nine months of treatment.