Badger culling "not effective" in cattle TB
LONDON (Reuters) - Badger culling is not an effective way to curb the incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle -- and some culling methods might actually aid the spread of the disease, scientists said on Monday.
Although badgers contribute to the disease in some parts of Britain, the benefits of culling are modest and some methods are "likely to cause detrimental effects", according to a long-awaited report by independent government advisers.
The final report of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB -- 10 years in the making -- concluded that TB control efforts should focus on measures other than badger culling, given its high costs and low benefits.
A randomised badger culling trial in 30 areas of England found that culling led to a 23 percent drop in the incidence of bovine TB inside the culled area.
However, it also found that culling disrupted the social organisation of badger sets, causing infections to become more widely dispersed: proactive culling led to a 25 percent increase in cattle TB on neighbouring un-culled land.
The ISG concluded that rigidly applied control measures targeted at cattle could, instead, reverse the rising incidence of disease, and halt its geographical spread.
Professor John Bourne, chairman of the group, said: "We hope that the overwhelming scientific evidence we have provided ... will enable the farming industry and government to work together in a constructive and cooperative manner to tackle this very serious disease of cattle, which causes so much economic loss and hardship to cattle farmers."
The disease also cost taxpayers around 80 million pounds in 2006/07, according to government figures.
David Miliband, Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said cattle control measures were critical to tackling the disease and that he would consider the "important contribution" of the ISG in reaching a final policy decision.
However, Andrew Biggs, senior vice president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, said control measures aimed solely at cattle would do nothing to improve the problem.
"If we don't do anything different, we shouldn't be surprised if nothing different happens: if we continue to test and cull cattle without addressing the disease in wildlife, the costs will continue and the disease will not diminish.
"This is evidenced by 10-15 years of experience.
"There are plenty of examples of closed herds where TB-free herds acquire infection with no cattle movements onto the farm and so the source is likely to be wildlife."
Cattle TB was almost cleared from Britain in the 1970s, but has since re-emerged as a major problem for farmers.
Cattle-based controls were supplemented with various forms of badger culling between 1973 and 1998.
A scientific review by Lord John Krebs, completed in 1997, said there was "compelling" evidence that badgers were involved in transmitting infection to cattle.
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