Badgers and cattle

The British response to bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle (Bos primigenius) and badgers (Meles meles) continues to feature in the news. Here’s a list of notifiable diseases affecting livestock in Britain.

Badgers (Meles meles) are being culled. But I’ve come to agree with those who say it would be more relevant to restrict livestock movements. Perhaps also to vaccinate badgers.

My fellow blogger petrel41 tells us about the first field trial of M. meles vaccination. I’m watching with interest but I think the word ‘successful’ is premature. How would success be measured? Will the vaccinated badgers survive and breed? Will their vaccination affect the incidence of bovine TB? What will be the impacts on rural employment and on farmers’ businesses?

As for the cull, dozens of senior scientists say it might increase the problem of bTB. Yes, culling badgers may not be just a waste of resources. It may actually increase bTB. Have you seen any senior scientists offer evidence in favour of the cull? I haven’t, yet.

Owen Paterson, head of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), we know you want to win votes from your Tory supporters. But this may be quite the wrong way to go about it.

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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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7 Responses to Badgers and cattle

  1. petrel41 says:

    Hi, the Wildlife Extra story calls it ‘extremely successful’; but also a ‘successful *start*’. So, successful so far. Indeed, we will have to look at later developments which you mention.

  2. alicephilippa says:

    I was reading in the paper, a few days ago, that one of the biotech companies has developed a way of differentiating between blood samples for cattle that have been inoculated against TB and those that have TB. If this is successful then we would be able to resume TB vaccinations in cattle. Providing the EU agree to lift the ban.

    For the time being, though, we should be restricting cattle movements not culling the badger. Removing one animal from the ecosystem may have unexpected disbenefits rather than the anticipated reduction in bovine TB.

    • argylesock says:

      That’s a good article. Thank you for linking to it! I don’t personally know the scientists working on this new test for bovine TB but I wish them every success.

      You’re right about what can happen when a keystone species is too far depleted. This reminds me of the sorry tale of the Newfoundland cod.

  3. I’m pretty new to this TB thing being a first time cow keeper but it doesn’t seem sensible to me to cull badgers in one area – not sure exactly why but it seems to reek of a ‘let’s do something, anything!’ approach which will keep people quiet for a while. Cattle vaccination seems the best way forward.

    • argylesock says:

      Indeed, I’ve heard that there’s evidence of badgers moving to refill areas where their populations have been reduced. No doubt if they did that, they’d bring in any diseases they’re carrying. I’m speculating a bit, though, because I haven’t read the original science.

      I agree that the badger cull seems like a ‘let’s do something!’ response. Perhaps one aimed to win votes from Tory field-sports enthusiasts. Btw I’m not a Tory and I don’t kill anything for fun. Most of my friends are anti-Tory and anti-shooting. But there are good Tories in my family and good shooting enthusiasts in my workplace. This is one of the times I feel able to stand with a foot in each camp, seeing the points of view of people who often mistrust one another.

      Anyway the badger cull contradicts advice given to our Government by the team of scientists employed to give such advice. I’ve written about that here under my ‘badgers’ tag. Being a scientist myself, I trust those people’s opinion, so I’ve reached the view that the cull is a very bad idea.

      The article linked to upthread by alicephilippa mentions that it’s illegal throughout Europe to vaccinate cattle against TB. Apparently this is because there’s no test (yet) to distinguish a vaccinated cow from an infected one. I don’t understand why that should mean outlawing the vaccine, but perhaps I should read the original science and find out why.

  4. Pingback: Owen Paterson talks to farmers | Science on the Land

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