An independent report commissioned by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, has found that poor biosecurity and the movement of cattle is majorly hampering control of the bovine tuberculosis (TB) crisis. The review also states that badgers should not be blamed as the primary cause of the disease spreading.
The scientists behind the report, led by Professor Charles Godfray at the University of Oxford said it was “highly desirable” to vaccinate rather than cull badgers, although Gove had asked them not to assess whether the existing culls were working. In September, Gove approved a massive increase in the number of badgers to be killed this year – with up to 42,000 to be shot – despite claims from animal welfare groups that the cull is ineffective.
Bovine TB costs UK taxpayers £100m in compensation each year, and in 2017 resulted in the slaughter of 33,000 infected cows. The government has spent around £40m on badger culling, while £700,000 has been offered over four years for badger vaccination.
The report states that unsecure fencing on farms and trading of cattle – with up to two million bought and sold each year – is leading to poor disease management control. The standard test for bovine TB also misses many infections, so diseased animals are still moved around the country.
Farming Minister George Eustice was quoted by The Guardian:
“As a government we are committed to eradicating bovine TB and have always been clear that there is no single measure for tackling it. That’s why we have pursued a range of interventions, including cattle movement controls, vaccinations and controlled culling in certain areas.”
Despite the badger cull, levels of bovine TB are not falling, and the report criticised the government for poorly managing control of the disease.
Dominic Dyer, CEO of The Badger Trust, told Veganuary:
“A combination of incompetence, negligence and deceit at the heart of the government and industrial farming industry has resulted in a bovine TB policy which is failing farmers, tax payers and our precious wildlife.”
Dyer supports calls for a cost benefit analysis comparing badger vaccination to culling. He continued:
“The government could kill every badger in England, but bovine TB will still remain in the cattle herds as it’s primarily a cattle-based disease… It’s a national scandal that a policy based on such lies is leading to the largest mass destruction of a protected species on record, which could push the badger to the verge of local extinction in parts of Britain where it has inhabited since the Ice Age.”
The government is expected to respond next year to recommendations outlined in the review, but it recognised in its summary of the report that industry must take greater responsibility for on-farm controls, biosecurity and safe trading practices to stop TB spreading.
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