The commencement of the trial Badger cull in 2 areas of England this week in an attempt to control the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis has prompted some very strong opinions on either side of the argument.
Badgers are an indigenous species in the UK but, with progressive farming techniques their habitats have been marginalised over decades and yet their numbers have increased more recently with farmers being incentivised to create conservation areas on their farms.
The incidence of Bovine TB is on the rise. Bovine TB can spread to people and so its continued increase is a large concern for human health. Many Vets, including Vets from our practice are involved in TB testing. Every cow undergoes a program of regular testing and if any cow in a herd is found to be positive, that cow is culled and the farmer is not permitted to move cattle on or off the farm until it is proven that all the other cows in the herd are TB free. The consequences can be far reaching as the control area can extend to involve many neighbouring farms that are also put under restriction. The economic consequences for the farmer can be catastrophic and in many cases, a TB outbreak on a farm can lead to the farmer being forced out of business.
Fortunately, our Practice area is less affected than some areas although we have had several small isolated TB incidents over the last few years. In areas such as Devon, some farms have suffered repeated TB outbreaks with the frequency of outbreaks increasing and the affected area becoming larger every year.
The cost to individual farms and the cost to the country in controlling TB has spiralled and the control measures that have been used to date have been ineffective in controlling the progress of the disease. Clearly some different tack was required.
The science behind badger culling is hotly debated and I could write a small book and not cover all the arguments but it does seem clear that badgers do carry Bovine TB and it seems likely that badgers are a source of spread of the disease and a reservoir of infection. It is quite possible to blame modern farming for allowing TB to spread to badgers and to blame badgers for infecting farms but this is, in many respects, an unhelpful argument.
It seems a great pity that culling wild animals is the only way to halt the spread of Bovine TB. Farmers, and the public as the ultimate consumers of farm produce, have to be protected against the unstoppable march of Bovine TB and yet most people feel understandably uncomfortable with the prospect of large scale extermination of one of our few remaining indigenous larger mammals.