Tuberculosis, cattle and badgers

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is an infectious disease of cattle (Bos primigenius) caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. People can catch it from infected milk. That’s why milk gets pasteurised before we in rich countries buy it. TB’s not good news for the cattle, either. In fact it’s a notifiable disease. Here’s a list of notifiable diseases affecting livestock in Britain.

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that TB is a serious problem in the British beef and dairy industries.

As well as infecting humans and cattle, M. bovis infects many other mammals including the European badger (Meles meles). Therein lies controversy.

Farmers usually have guns, licenced so that they can kill rabbits and other vermin. It’s not hard to understand why a dairy or beef farmer might feel inclined to shoot badgers. But is that a good idea? It’s not legal under current UK law. The badger is a protected species. So should DEFRA carry out organised badger culls? The Wildlife Trusts oppose badger culling. Controversy reached the High Court. The Court found in favour of a cull but the Badger Trust is appealing against that decision.

What do you think? You might choose to contribute to DEFRA’s call for views.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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8 Responses to Tuberculosis, cattle and badgers

  1. Carol Hague says:

    The governments own research shows that a badger cull will reduce the TB rate by a maximum of 16%. Probably less than that, because as badgers are cleared from one area they’ll move in from elsewhere to take over the vacated territories, possibly carrying infection or strains thereof that wasn’t there before.

    It seems to me that if removing badgers helps so little, they’re most likely not he biggest cause of TB in any case, so perhaps it might be more effective to find out what *is* and do something about *that*? I’ve even seen it suggested, though I can’t find the source, that badgers get TB from cows rather than vice versa.

    Frankly the badger cull smacks of “Something must be done. This is something. We’ll do this.”

    Rob and I are currently boycotting cow’s milk in protest at the NFU’s support for culling.

  2. lowerarchy says:

    Of course badgers shouldn’t be murdered. All living things should be respected. Culling is a euphemism for killing…

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