We note Defra Minister George Eustice’s statement on 13th September (1) referring to epidemiological data on bovine TB (bTB) in cattle in badger culling zones (2). He claims that:
“Today’s figures showing reductions in TB cases in Somerset and Gloucestershire are evidence that our strategy for dealing with this slow moving, insidious disease is delivering results (1).”
Examination of that data in detail demonstrates no reduction in the prevalence of bTB infected herds in Gloucestershire or Somerset as a result of culling (2). Prevalence is a measure of the percentage of cattle herds in badger culling zones which have bTB, taken at a specific point in time. It involves relatively simple calculations, giving hard data, and is important for considerations of control. Prevalence is a measure of the force driving infection between animals within a herd, between adjacent herds and between distant herds (3).
The prevalence in cattle is no lower than it was before culling (2), despite the killing and removal of 1879 badgers in Gloucestershire and 1777 in Somerset. A total of 3656 badgers have been killed with no perceivable disease control benefits.
When ministerial statements are used as justification for the slaughter of badgers on an industrial scale across swathes of England, it is vital that they are accurate and reflect the best available veterinary and scientific advice.
The incidence rate is the calculated measure of new bTB breakdowns in herds, and Defra claim that it has fallen after four years of badger culling (2). The methods used to interrogate the raw data in order to divine this conclusion merit analysis. Defra use complex and sometimes obscure calculations to obtain the figures for incidence. These calculations have been made using data which are, by Defra’s own admission, unstable over time. The explanation of data set parameters (2) reveals that a conscious filtration of data was necessary over the four years of culling, with lost herds over time, new herds, merging herds, herds in existence and cohorts – the studied cattle exposed to badger culling – all subject to qualitative review and re-allocation for data purposes.
In addition to our reservations on analytical method, the measure of 100 herd years at risk is opaque, and impossible to confirm independently without raw data. The results of statistical analyses always vary dependent upon rules governing their choice of data set. We request that Defra release to us and other groups the data upon which their calculations for incidence and prevalence are based. Data generated by the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, which the Government cite as the basis for their policy, were made openly available for independent verification (3). The location and date of all bTB breakdowns is already publicly available via the Government’s own ibTB website (4).
Greater clarity can be obtained by focusing on prevalence rather than incidence. In Gloucestershire the prevalence was 11.9% three years before culling started, falling for three years without culling to 6.9%, before plateauing to 7.1% after four years of culling. In Somerset the prevalence was 17.2% three years before culling started, which then fell successively for three years without culling to 6.1% before plateauing to 7.2% after four years of culling. The prevalence values before culling and after culling are not significantly different. The additional free veterinary assistance and biosecurity advice farmers in cull zones have been given (5), when compared to farmers outside the zones, renders the badger cull’s failure to reduce bTB even more striking.
The only discernible qualitative trend from the data is a rapid decrease in prevalence in both cull zones in the three years before culling started. Badger culling is associated with the arrest of this steep decline and a plateauing of prevalence at that level.
One peculiar thing about these figures is that, although Defra maintain that the incidence has been falling steadily, the prevalence has remained the same. By now a persistent reduced incidence might be expected to translate into a lower prevalence but it has not. Perhaps there are confounding factors relating to the amalgamation or disappearance of problem herds. For example the number of cohort herds in Gloucestershire fell by 20.6% from 214 herds to 170 during the four years of culling. The number of cohort herds in Somerset fell by 18.8% from 154 to 125. That is a disappearance of approximately one fifth of herds exposed to badger culling in both areas. If these herds were culled out, or merged so that they collectively present one data point, this could seriously affect the accuracy of calculated incidence. Perhaps Defra could clarify exactly what happened to these 73 herds and what their bTB status was prior to disappearance. Please regard this as a Freedom of Information request under the appropriate legislation.
Put simply, there are approximately the same proportion of bTB affected herds now, as there were before culling started. Badger culling has not resulted in a decrease in bTB in cattle in cull zones, for the prevalence remains unchanged. Any statement made to the contrary is simply untrue.
The very title of Defra’s document is incorrect, claiming: “New data shows drop in bovine TB as further measures to fight disease unveiled”. There has been no such “drop in bovine TB” (2). Perhaps Mr Eustice or Mr Gove could kindly explain the total failure of four years of badger culling to lower the percentage of herds affected by bovine TB in culling zones.
The Zoological Society of London is in agreement with us, recently stating “Thus far there is no robust evidence that England’s policy of mass culling is reducing cattle TB. A minister’s claim that the approach is ‘delivering results’ is based upon a government report which states explicitly that it ‘cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in reducing bovine TB in cattle’” (6). The omission of data from matched control areas not subject to badger culling (2) further invalidates the Government’s claims.
Widely published video footage of a cage-trapped badger which took a minute to die after being shot by a cull contractor (7) (8) was recently released and viewed by millions. There is now increasing public disquiet and disbelief at the violence and animal suffering associated with the badger cull. The badger cull has produced no measurable reduction in the percentage of bTB infected herds in cull zones, but has produced a well documented increase in badger harm. The policy clearly compromises badger welfare both as part of the Government sponsored cull (7) (8) (9) (10) and by the associated increases in sett tampering and the proliferation of animal abuse such as baiting lactating badgers with fighting dogs (11). Neither the veterinary profession nor the general public will tolerate such animal abuse in plain sight.
The data upon which Mr Eustice bases his statement provide no evidence whatsoever for his claimed “reductions in TB cases in Somerset and Gloucestershire”. We respectfully request that Mr Eustice withdraw his inaccurate statement and that, having consulted Mr Gove and Defra’s Chief Vet, he issue a corrected statement on a newly entitled document which accurately reflects bTB prevalence in cattle after four years of badger culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
When proven harm is committed to animals on a very large scale, accompanied by documented animal abuse and entirely unaccompanied by any disease control benefits, the only option for any responsible Government is to abandon the policy immediately.
Dr Iain McGill, BVetMed, BSc(Hons), MRCVS. Lead author VVNABC, Director Prion Interest Group.
Professor Andrew Knight MANZCVS, DipECAWBM (AWSEL), DipACAW, PhD, FRCVS, SFHEA. Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, University of Winchester; European & RCVS Veterinary
Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law; American & New Zealand Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare
Dr Andre Menache, BSc(Hons) BVSc Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) MRCVS, European Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law.
Richard Saunders BSc (Hons) BVSc FRSB CBiol DZooMed (Mammalian) DipECZM (ZHM) MRCVS, RCVS Specialist in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine (Mammalian), EBVS® European Veterinary Specialist in Zoo Health Management
Bronwen Eastwood, BSc(Hons) CertGP(SAP) BVetMed MRCVS
Fiona Dalzell, BVSc BA(Hons) MVetMed, MRCVS
Phill Elliott BVM&S MSc(Wild Animal Health) MRCVS
Bev Irving, BVetMed, MRCVS
Dr Mark Jones, BVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS. Head of Policy at The Born Free Foundation
Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Dominic Dyer, CEO of The Badger Trust
Dr Toni Shephard, PhD (Animal Behaviour), Executive Director of Animal Equality UK
Gloria Davies, Chief Executive of Network for Animals
Elisa Allen, Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Adam Grogan BSc, MCIEEM, Head of Wildlife, Wildlife Department Science and Policy Group, RSPCA
2. Bovine TB in cattle: badger control areas monitoring report For the period 2013 – 2017. September 2018 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment _data/file/740003/bovine-tb-in-cattle-badger-control-areas-monitoring-report-20132017.pdf
3. Bourne J (Chair) (2007) Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence. Final report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. Defra
6. Eradicating TB from cattle and badgers – a review of evidence Zoological Society of London – September 2018 https://www.zsl.org/sites/default/files/media/201809/ZSL_Eradicating_TB_Report_final_24Sep18.pdf
7. Doward J Secret filming reveals hidden cruelty of licensed badger culls. The Guardian, September 30th 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/30/covert-footagereveals-cruelty-of-badger-culls
8. Culled badger took a minute to die, BBC News,1st October 2018 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-45703421
9. Munro R (Chair) Pilot Badger Culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Report by the Independent Expert Panel, March 2014 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_dat a/file/300382/independent-expert-panel-report.pdf
10. Anger at badger’s ‘cruel’ death in cull zone. BBC News September 23rd 2014 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-29315243
11. Dalton J (2018) Crime gangs selling badgers for up to £700 for baiting with dogs, fuelling high-stakes gambling https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/organised-crime-gangssell-badgers-baiting-dogs-betting-gambling-badger-cull-a8331736.html