On 28 August 2015, the same day DEFRA announced that it would be continuing the badger culls, as well as extending them to Dorset, it made another announcement which has gone largely unnoticed due to the justifiable outrage the culling news caused amongst animal lovers, and top scientists alike.
Between 28 August and 25 September, DEFRA is consulting on proposals to update the licensing criteria for badger control licences. There are three proposals, all of which fly in the face of the scientific evidence which the badger culls have been founded on, the Randomised Badger Control Trials (RBCT). All three proposals would therefore only serve to increase the incidences of bTB in badgers.
Proposal 1: Relaxing the six week culling period
This is the most shocking of all three proposals, given that the scientists involved in the RBCT stated culls needed to be as rapid as possible, in fact, in a recent discussion with Professor Rosie Woodroffe, who was part of the RBCT, it was revealed that ideally a much shorter period than 6 weeks was put forward by the scientists involved because the longer the culling period, the greater the prevalence of bTB in remaining badgers after the culling period.
In the Consultation, DEFRA says:
“The assessment of the duration would take into account: the CVO’s advice on disease control; the latest evidence and advice on the remaining badger population; and whether any immediate action is appropriate. It is proposed that updated Guidance to NE would give greater prominence to NE’s discretion whether or not to take action to terminate operations on a case-by-case basis (with advice from the CVO where appropriate). The updated Guidance would reinforce the need for NE to keep the duration under review.”
This is despite the fact that the RBCT remains the best scientific evidence available with regards to tackling bTB in the UK, and indeed no new scientific evidence on this issue has come to light since it was published. Where will the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) be getting his evidence from, and indeed his information on the number of badgers there are in any given area?
Proposal 2: Reducing the minimum culling area size to 100km²
Proposal 3: Removing the 70% land access requirements
In the key conclusions from the meeting of scientific experts, held at DEFRA in 2011, it was stated that:
“If culling is not conducted in a coordinated, sustained and simultaneous manner according to the minimum criteria, then this could result in a smaller benefit or even a detrimental effect on confirmed cattle bTB incidence. [N.B. the minimum criteria are defined as: covering at least 70% of the land within the culled area (based on RBCT experience), a minimum area of 150km² (based on analysis and extrapolation of RBCT data), sustained for a minimum of four years (based on RBCT estimates), and conducted simultaneously as defined as within a six-week period each year (based on advice of the combined Defra SAC and SAB3)]”
Given the above statement, it seems illogical that DEFRA would seek to go against this advice. It would appear that it is using the RCBT results as a guide as to what the results would be in a smaller culling area. Not only is DEFRA making an assumption here, it also appears to be using the RBCT as a guide when it suits its agenda but ignoring the evidence based conclusions of the report, a report, which top scientific experts said:
“provides the best scientific evidence available from which to predict the effects of a future culling policy. Informed expert opinion suggests that the more that a future culling policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT – e.g. industry versus government led and/or culling methods (such as permitting controlled shooting of badgers in addition to cage-trapping), the more likely it is that the effects of that policy will differ, either positively or negatively, and with potential variability in outcome between areas.”
By completely ignoring the parts of the report which don’t seem to suit its agenda, and suggesting the 70% land access requirements are relaxed, this will make it easier for the government to justify cull roll outs throughout the country if they can’t meet their targets, and if bTB in badgers increases after culling (which it will, as the RBCT has demonstrated!).
The six week culling period, 150km² cull area, and 70% land access requirements were all specified requirements advised in the RBCT. Yet again, we are witnessing the shifting of goal posts, and a determination from the government to justify not only a continuation of their current failing culls but a desire to roll them out across the country. Not only is this inhumane, irrational and costing the tax-payer millions of pounds, the science-based evidence findings in the RBCT show it is going to increase the incidences of bTB in badgers, not reduce it.
DEFRA is calling the current, irrational cull in Dorset “a cautious rollout” but caution appears to be the last thing on the government’s mind, as each one of these three proposals will make the bTB problem worse.
We now all have an opportunity to respond to the three proposals by 25th September 2015. For those of you who can’t make it to the Wounded Badger Patrols but feel very strongly about what is happening to our badgers, it is a chance to show how much you care. The more people who respond to DEFRA’s proposals, citing evidence based research, in a calm and intelligent manner, the more chance we have of stopping them from going ahead. Remember, this Consultation questionnaire is not about whether or not badger culling should be taking place. They are looking for responses to those three proposals only and anything else will be disregarded.
As upsetting as animal lovers like us find the badger cull, it important that we stick to the facts when responding to the Consultation, as we will stand more chance of stopping the proposals from going ahead. This will ultimately be for the good of badgers, and for bTB rates in both badgers and of course cattle, who suffer terribly because of this disease too. We want to end animal suffering, and by making our voices heard to DEFRA to stop its proposals from going ahead, we will show them that we are watching and questioning every irrational decision they make.