This House would cull badgers

European Badgers are mammals that are 60-90 cm long and 25-30 cm high when an adult. They are wedge shaped with their heads being most recognisable due to their white and black stripes. They are common throughout Europe and Asia Minor. While the badger was once hunted this is no longer common, but because they are common animals – that in some areas are actually increasing in numbers they are not generally protected. The exception is the UK where in 1992 the Protection of Badgers act was passed. This makes it an offence to “wilfully kills, injures or takes, or attempts to kill, injure or take, a badger.” And even an offence to have possession of “any dead badger or any part of, or anything derived from, a dead badger.” Additionally it prevents cruelty to badgers and interference with badger’s setts.[1] This act came on top of the Badgers Act 1973 which also prevented the killing of badgers but had an exception for culling in reaction to bovine TB outbreaks.[2]

But while the UK is supposedly committed to protecting badgers the government is now starting a pilot culling of badgers in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset. The cull is a response to bovine TB. Bovine TB is a disease in cattle that also affects other species; it can spread from cow to cow and from badgers to cows. It is considered to be one of the biggest challenges facing the cattle industry. It can be passed to humans where it creates an infection very similar to normal TB but less than 1% of all cases of TB in humans are the result of transmission from cattle or badgers.[3]

Bovine TB has increased rapidly since the 1990s but the cause is not known for certain. As the incidence of infection has increased so have the calls for the government to do something to reverse the increase. The government vacillated first deciding against any cull in July 2008 however after elections in 2010 this decision was reversed by the new government. Two trials in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset was initially set to start at the end of 2012 but were first delayed sue to a request for more time for preparations and then as a result of finding a higher than expected number of badgers in the areas for culling.[4] The cull finally began on the 27th August 2013.

[1] ‘Protection of Badgers Act 1992’, legislation.gov.uk, 1992, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1992/51/section/1

[2] ‘Badgers Act 1973’, legislation.gov.uk, 25 July 1973, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1973/57/enacted

[3] ‘Bovine TB (tuberculosis)’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs,26 March 2013, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/

[4] ‘Controlling bovine tuberculosis in badgers’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 13 August 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-bovine-tuberculosis/supporting-pages/badgers-and-bovine-tb

 

Title 
A cull is needed to prevent bovine TB
Point 

Bovine TB is a disease that affects cattle. When a herd is infected the animals in question need to be slaughtered to prevent the disease getting into the foodchain. The UK’s Chief vet, Nigel Gibbons argues that the risk of infection of humans will increase if there is no cull.[1]  Since the protection of badgers in 1992 there have been increases in the numbers of badgers and at the same time an increase in infections. In 1992 there were only about 800 infected herds but by 2012 that had increased to 9000. Scotland, which has only 10% of the UK’s badgers compared to 25% in the South West of England has very low prevalence of bovine TB.[2] It seems clear that we need to halt the spread of bovine TB to prevent the infection of humans and a badger cull has to be a part of the answer.

[1] Bawden, Tom, ‘Chief vet: We need badger cull to prevent spread of TB to humans’, The Independent, 30 May 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/chief-vet-we-need-badger-cull-to-prevent-spread-of-tb-to-humans-8638379.html

[2] ‘Bovine tuberculosis statistics and costs’, bovinetb.infohttp://www.bovinetb.info/ (chart f and j)

Counterpoint 

Some of the costs are largely illusionary. Yes we stop food that is tested positive from bovine TB from getting into the food chain but this ignores that the tests are not accurate so there is likely meat that is infected getting into the foodchain anyway. Bovine TB is mostly in parts of cattle that are not eaten and cooking kills the TB bacterium. At the same time almost all milk is pasteurised so again the bacterium is killed posing no risk to human health.[1]

The main difficulty with the argument that a cull will prevent TB is that we do not know which way infections run. Do badgers infect cattle or the other way around. Currently the evidence suggests that it is cattle that infect badgers this is why there are areas with high badger populations without bovine TB problems such as the north of England. It is all but certain that any large jumps in infection over large distances are the result of cattle to cattle transmission.[2] Looking at the chart presented it is clear that the biggest jump from under 2000 to over 5000 infected herds occurs immediately after foot and mouth suggesting the increase was a result of cattle movements.

[1] ‘expert reaction to TB test-positive cattle entering the food chain’, Science Media Centre, 1 July 2013, http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-tb-test-positive-cattle-entering-the-food-chain/

[2] Dawson, D.G., ‘Badgers and TB, where is the science?’, University of Birkbeck, March 2013, http://www.bbk.ac.uk/environment/ecss/lecturesarchive/badgerstext (6, 10, 11)

Title 
A cull would save on the cost of compensation to farmers
Point 

A cull would be much cheaper than the cost of compensating farmers for their losses as a result of bovine TB. The cost of the disease to the taxpayer is estimated to be £1billion over the next ten years – mostly as a result of compensation payments for farmers. This cost also damages farmers’ livelihoods as the average cost of a TB breakdown on a farm is £34,000 of which the farmer has to pay £12,000.[1] By contrast the cost of the cull is estimated to be £1000 per square kilometre per year meaning the trials for the culls would cost a total of £2.2million. This then is considerably cheaper than the cost of the disease so will be saving both farmers and taxpayers a considerable cost.[2]

[1] ‘Bovine TB (tuberculosis)’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs,26 March 2013, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/

[2] Agencies, ‘How badger cull policy was reached’, The Telegraph, 27 August 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/10268051/How-badger-cull-policy-was-reached.html

Counterpoint 

This would certainly make sense if it was expected that the cull would eliminate bovine TB however this is not the case. The estimated reduction in bovine TB cases is expected to only be 16% as a result of a cull of 70% of badgers in an area.[1] This is because only a small proportion of badgers, possibly as low as 6% and at most 30-40%, have bovine TB.[2] Another reason is that other animals, such as deer and foxes, also can pass on bovine TB.[3] Clearly most of the cost in terms of compensation will therefore remain. There may be some small cost savings but these are marginal.

[1] Ghosh, Pallab, ‘Badger cull will reduce cattle TB infections slightly’, BBC News, 28 September 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19742101

[2] Packham, Chris, ‘like Owen Paterson, I had pet badgers. But their real place was in the wild’, theguardian.com, 27 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/shortcuts/2013/aug/27/chris-packham-pet-badgers-owen-paterson

[3] Worral, Patrick, ‘FactCheck: the badger cull – what we know and what we don’t know’, Channel 4 News, 27 August 2013, http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-badger-cull/14232

Title 
If there is no cull farmers will simply carry out their own killing
Point 

Without a cull farmers will simply take the issue into their own hands in order to protect their herds. If the government will not act on the issue of badgers then farmers will feel they are left with no choice. According to groups that aim to protect badgers there are already an estimated 9,000 badgers killed each year through gassing, poisoning, and baiting.[1]

[1] Jenkinson, Stephen, ‘Protect the Badger, Why Bother?’, South Yorkshire Badger Grouphttp://www.sybadgergroup.f9.co.uk/page4.html

Counterpoint 

Clearly such actions would be against the law. It has been made clear that even if there were to be a cull the protections that currently exist for badgers would continue to exist as before any cull. For individuals to be taking the matter into their own hands if there is no cull would be illegal and should be punished as such.

Title 
Culling badgers is inhumane
Point 

The culling of badgers will not be done in a humane way. The intention is that badgers will be shot by trained marksmen but according to the RSPCA “Their anatomy makes it difficult to shoot a free-roaming badger” the result is likely to be large numbers of injured badgers with many escaping “suffer agonizing deaths underground.”[1] As badgers are sentient beings we should be seeking to avoid causing them harm and suffering.

[1] RSPCA, ‘RSPCA deeply saddened by start to badger cull’, politics.co.uk, 27 August 2013, http://www.politics.co.uk/opinion-formers/rspca-royal-society-for-the-prevention-of-cruelty-to-animals/article/rspca-deeply-saddened-by-start-to-badger-cull

Counterpoint 

In this instance the question is one of balancing suffering. Yes culling will result in a certain amount of suffering from badgers but not culling and letting TB run rampant causes suffering in cattle. To humans cattle are much more valuable than badgers as we have several uses for their produce. It is clear that if there has to be suffering it should be badgers, not cattle that do so.

Title 
Culling could increase rather than reduce TB
Point 

There have been trials of culls of badgers before and they have not been successful. In a randomised badger culling trial in 30 areas of England each measuring 100km2 it was found that “removing badgers by culling was found to disrupt their social organisation, causing remaining badgers to range more widely both inside and around the outside of culled areas.” The result of increased movement was “Proactive culling was associated with a 25% increase in the incidence of cattle TB on neighbouring un-culled land.”[1] Reactive culling can result in even higher increases with the risk of bovine TB more than doubling.[2] Clearly this could be dealt with through a complete cull that would not encourage movement of badgers but as the badger remains protected this is not possible. There are also difficulties with knowing how many badgers there really are because they live underground and only come out a night. Counting by numbers of setts is unreliable when there may be many that are disused or where there are badgers that use more than one sett.[3]

[1] Bourne, John, et al., ‘Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB’, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairshttp://collections.europarchive.org/tna/20081027092120/http://defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/isg/pdf/final_report.pdf Pp.19-20

[2] Imperial College London News Release, ‘badger Localised reactive badger culling raises bovine tuberculosis risk, new analysis confirms’, Imperial College London, 13 July 2011, http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_13-7-2011-9-59-29?newsid=100586

[3] Carrington, Damian, ‘Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis’, The Guardian, 27 May 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis

Counterpoint 

An area of 100km2 is not particularly large thus making it possible for badgers to be moving into areas where there has been no culling. In a more general cull this would not be possible as the badgers would simply be moving into other areas which have also seen culls.

Title 
There are other options to a cull
Point 

Culling badgers is just one option for reducing the incidence of bovine TB. We are forgetting that the rate of bovine TB is increasing mostly because the UK was very successful at wiping out bovine TB in the past. In the 1930s the national infection rate was around 4 in 10 cattle, this was reduced to less than one in 1000 in the mid-1960s.[1] This was done by removing infected cattle; this is still done today but that it was so successful in the past shows that other methods work. Badgers are not a new species in the UK and would have represented the same risk in the 1960s.

Also potentially a better option is vaccination. This can be done either by vaccinating the badgers, or most effectively by vaccinating the cows. Wales has opted to go for a vaccination of badgers, a field study has found that vaccination can result in a 74% reduction in the proportion of wild badgers testing positive for TB.[2] It can also be done comparatively cheaply by using volunteers (the same people who are campaigning against the culls). It will still cost £2000 per km2 (about twice the cull) and it is clear that even if herd immunity is achieved in badgers this won’t immediately stop infections of cattle from badgers but considering the cull is expected over 9 years with only a 16% improvement in infection rates a vaccine would seem to be a good alternative.[3]

[1] Rollins, Julian, ‘Badgers: To cull or not to cull’, BBC Countryfile, 8 April 2009, http://www.countryfile.com/countryside/badgers-cull-or-not-cull

[2] ‘Research into Bovine TB’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 10 December 2012, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/research/

[3] ‘Bovine TB vaccination no magic bullet say MPs’, parliament.uk, 5 June 2013, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/news/bovine-tb-report-publication/

Counterpoint 

A vaccine for cattle does not yet exist in a form where it is possible to tell the difference between a vaccinated cow and a cow infected by bovine TB. This means that vaccinated cattle would have to be treated the same way as infected cattle so would not be salable. Vaccination is not 100% effective and would run the risk of other countries banning exports.[1] Vaccination of badgers on the other hand is costly with the first phase of the welsh trials having amounted to £662 per jab despite the vaccine itself costing much less.[2]

[1] ‘Cattle Vaccination’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 24 January 2013, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/vaccination/cattle-vaccination/

[2] ‘NFU Cymru slams bovine TB vaccination costs’, NFU Cymru, 29 January 2013, http://www.nfu-cymru.org.uk/sectors/cross-cutting-issues/bovine-tb/nfu-cymru-slams-bovine-tb-vaccination-costs/

Title 
A relaxation in cattle controls, not badgers, caused the problem
Point 

Bovine TB was almost eradicated in the UK yet the number of cases have shot up since the 1990s. The cause however is not badgers. Rather it is the result of BSE and Foot and Mouth disease which resulted in huge numbers of cattle being destroyed. To help the cattle farmers get back on their feet restrictions were all but lifted and cattle were moved all over the country. It is notable that the Isle of Man, which has no badgers, does have bovine TB.[1]

John Bourne, who led a trial of badger culling, suggests the cattle movement controls should be tightened before anything as drastic as a cull is undertaken. “The cattle controls in operation at the moment are totally ineffective… It's an absolute nonsense that farmers can move cattle willy-nilly after only two tests. Why won't politicians implement proper cattle movement controls? Because they don't want to upset farmers.” The problem is that the tests are not accurate so herds can pass the tests while they still have the disease so when cattle are moved they infect other herds.[2]

[1] Kaminski, Julia, ‘Badger culls don't stop tuberculosis in cattle – the evidence is clear’, theguardian.com, 11 August 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2011/aug/11/badger-cull-dont-stop-bovine-tb

[2] Carrington, Damian, ‘Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis’, The Guardian, 27 May 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis

Counterpoint 

As opposition itself has stated we do not know the exact cause of the transmission of bovine TB and the increase in cases. Badgers are almost certain to be one cause if the increase so they must be dealt with. There are already controls on the movement of cattle; they need to have tests first and this has not halted the increase so something else needs to be tried. 

Bibliography 

Agencies, ‘How badger cull policy was reached’, The Telegraph, 27 August 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/10268051/How-badger-cull-policy-was-reached.html

Bawden, Tom, ‘Chief vet: We need badger cull to prevent spread of TB to humans’, The Independent, 30 May 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/chief-vet-we-need-badger-cull-to-prevent-spread-of-tb-to-humans-8638379.html

Bourne, John, et al., ‘Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB’, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, http://collections.europarchive.org/tna/20081027092120/http://defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/isg/pdf/final_report.pdf

‘Bovine tuberculosis statistics and costs’, bovinetb.info, http://www.bovinetb.info/

Carrington, Damian, ‘Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis’, The Guardian, 27 May 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/27/badger-cull-bovine-tuberculosis

Dawson, D.G., ‘Badgers and TB, where is the science?’, University of Birkbeck, March 2013, http://www.bbk.ac.uk/environment/ecss/lecturesarchive/badgerstext

‘Bovine TB (tuberculosis)’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 26 March 2013, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/

‘Controlling bovine tuberculosis in badgers’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 13 August 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-bovine-tuberculosis/supporting-pages/badgers-and-bovine-tb

‘Cattle Vaccination’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 24 January 2013, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/vaccination/cattle-vaccination/

‘Research into Bovine TB’, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 10 December 2012, http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/research/

Ghosh, Pallab, ‘Badger cull will reduce cattle TB infections slightly’, BBC News, 28 September 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19742101

Imperial College London News Release, ‘badger Localised reactive badger culling raises bovine tuberculosis risk, new analysis confirms’, Imperial College London, 13 July 2011, http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_13-7-2011-9-59-29?newsid=100586

Jenkinson, Stephen, ‘Protect the Badger, Why Bother?’, South Yorkshire Badger Group, http://www.sybadgergroup.f9.co.uk/page4.html

Kaminski, Julia, ‘Badger culls don't stop tuberculosis in cattle – the evidence is clear’, theguardian.com, 11 August 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2011/aug/11/badger-cull-dont-stop-bovine-tb

‘Protection of Badgers Act 1992’, legislation.gov.uk, 1992, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1992/51/section/1

‘Badgers Act 1973’, legislation.gov.uk, 25 July 1973, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1973/57/enacted

‘NFU Cymru slams bovine TB vaccination costs’, NFU Cymru, 29 January 2013, http://www.nfu-cymru.org.uk/sectors/cross-cutting-issues/bovine-tb/nfu-cymru-slams-bovine-tb-vaccination-costs/

Packham, Chris, ‘like Owen Paterson, I had pet badgers. But their real place was in the wild’, theguardian.com, 27 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/shortcuts/2013/aug/27/chris-packham-pet-badgers-owen-paterson

‘Bovine TB vaccination no magic bullet say MPs’, parliament.uk, 5 June 2013, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/news/bovine-tb-report-publication/

Rollins, Julian, ‘Badgers: To cull or not to cull’, BBC Countryfile, 8 April 2009, http://www.countryfile.com/countryside/badgers-cull-or-not-cull

RSPCA, ‘RSPCA deeply saddened by start to badger cull’, politics.co.uk, 27 August 2013, http://www.politics.co.uk/opinion-formers/rspca-royal-society-for-the-prevention-of-cruelty-to-animals/article/rspca-deeply-saddened-by-start-to-badger-cull

‘expert reaction to TB test-positive cattle entering the food chain’, Science Media Centre, 1 July 2013, http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-tb-test-positive-cattle-entering-the-food-chain/

Worral, Patrick, ‘FactCheck: the badger cull – what we know and what we don’t know’, Channel 4 News, 27 August 2013, http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-badger-cull/14232

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