A study just released finds ‘badger culls have failed’

Research, which has been published today, has found there is no detectable link between the culling of badgers and any decline in the level of bovine TB in cattle herds.

The research has been published in the Veterinary Record and was co-authored by Born Free’s head of policy, Dr. Mark Jones.

Since 2013, badgers in a designated ‘high-risk area’ of the west and south-west of England have been culled as part of a government effort to control bovine TB.

By the end of 2020, more than 140,000 “mostly healthy badgers” were killed across 54 licensed cull zones, while more than £100 million of public money continues to be spent on disease control in cattle every year.

A Born Free spokesperson added: “This policy comes at a huge cost to the taxpayer, the farming community, and the UK’s precious wildlife.

“Now, the largest and most extensive examination of government data from this high-risk area published to date, highlights the fact that the current policy has essentially cost a fortune and saved nothing.”

The comprehensive statistical analysis, authored by biologist Thomas Langton and vets Drs Mark Jones and Iain McGill, uses wide-ranging methods to compare the incidence and prevalence of bovine TB in the culled and un-culled areas within the high-risk area between 2013 and 2019.

Their analyses show that, while the disease peaked and began to decline during the study period, there is no statistical evidence that the rate and nature of the decline was any different in the areas where badgers were being shot and the areas where there was no cull in place.

The findings of the peer-reviewed study suggest that the slowing up and initial reduction of bovine TB in the high-risk area cannot be the result of badger culling and is, in fact, down to the progressive introduction of cattle-based measures including more intensive testing requirements and movement controls.

The conclusions of the study are further supported by data from Wales, where a similar reduction in the disease has been achieved without culling badgers.

The spokesperson continued: “As a result of their findings, Born Free is urging the government to act.

“Firstly, by making these results widely available to the farming community, vets and the public and secondly, by bringing badger culling to an immediate and permanent end, in line with the new scientific analysis.

“Currently, licensed mass shooting of badgers is set to continue to 2025 and beyond.

“The time, money and resource, currently being directed to badger culling, would be better spent on measures which will reduce the spread of bovine TB such as risk-based trading, the approval and use of more accurate cattle tests, and the urgent introduction of cattle vaccination.

“This research, which is welcomed by animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA, provides an opportunity and framework to reassess the current policy and stop the needless slaughter of badgers which is not only negatively impacting the image of farming but is also destroying healthy, protected wild creatures at a time of biodiversity and climate crisis.”

Dr. Mark Jones, Born Free’s head of policy and one of the study’s co-authors, commented: “To justify the licensed killing of many thousands of legally protected badgers, the government should at the very least be able to demonstrate a substantial and predictable disease control benefit.

“Our analysis of the government’s own data found no evidence to support the mass killing of badgers and confirms the conclusion of scientists who oversaw extensive government research conducted between 1998 and 2005 that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the future control of cattle TB in Britain’ and that ‘…substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures’.

“There is no justification for killing any more badgers.

“It’s time to bring this unscientific, inhumane and unnecessary badger culling policy to an immediate and permanent end.”

Tom Langton, principal author and consulting biologist said: “As the bovine TB epidemic continues to spread across England, government claims on badger culling ‘having worked’ are supposition, using small amounts of data from small areas over short periods.

“Here, we have a real-world analysis, using extensive data from across England’s High-Risk Area, supported by comprehensive statistical analysis.

“It is what farm veterinarians, farmers and the public should already have been told regarding this continuing animal health emergency.

“Hard working beef and dairy farmers should be given the advice and support that they need, to protect hundreds of thousands of domestic and wild animal lives and to prevent ruined farming livelihoods.”

Peter Hambly, executive director of Badger Trust, stated: “This new study in Vet Record provides yet more irrefutable evidence that the badger cull is not working to stop, or even slow, the spread of bTB in cattle.

“It highlights the need for large-scale comprehensive data when designing disease control methods, not selective cherry-picking as we have seen from the government.”

He continued: “Put simply, the badger cull has to stop immediately - there is no basis for it to continue.

“This study shows that the government’s bTB eradication policy is not working and wastes taxpayer money on a grand scale.

“It is an unnecessary wildlife tragedy of unprecedented proportions and diverts DEFRA away from enforcing robust cattle measures.

“Over 143,000 badgers have been needlessly killed to date, and we predict at least another 140,000 will be slaughtered under current intensive cull licences that won’t end until 2026.

“What’s worrying is that the data for this latest study were all sourced from DEFRA’s own records.

“They publish these figures publicly and yet had failed to notice this startling revelation.

“Given the shocking facts from these data and the internal analyses DEFRA must have been doing on this, we are left wondering why they have not stopped the cull sooner and why they continue to use it as their key strategy for dealing with bTB in cattle.”

Mr Hambly added: “Badger Trust continues to challenge the myth that badgers are the primary cause of the spread of bTB in cattle.

“The government needs to focus more on cattle and less on badgers.

“It is cattle measures, such as better slurry management, cattle vaccination, comprehensive disinfection and farmer education, that will reduce the spread of this awful disease.”

RSPCA director of advocacy and policy, Emma Slawinski, added: “We warmly welcome these definitive findings which come as no surprise to us, as they reinforce our long-held conviction that culling badgers does not prevent bovine TB in cattle.

“In the face of this conclusive evidence, the government should immediately call a halt to its cruel, ineffective and arbitrary programme based on the mass slaughter of badgers and focus on cattle-based solutions,” she concluded.