Here’s what Owen Paterson said last week. This speech opened the Oxford Farming Conference.
Mr Paterson’s our Home Secretary for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, so this is a career politician’s speech. We can make our own judgements. One of the striking topics in Mr Paterson’s speech is the culling of badgers (Meles meles) to control tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle (Bos primigenius). Here’s a list of notifiable diseases affecting livestock in Britain. Mr Paterson says he’ll go ahead with badger culling next year. Then he quietly remarks on the movement of cattle around our country. As you know, I’m against the cull and in favour of the movement restrictions.
About the cull, I agree with the scientists hired by our previous Government. They considered this question for more than a decade, then said (in scientific words) ‘Don’t cull British badgers!’ I wrote about the evidence that culling badgers here may not be just a waste of resources. It may actually increase bovine TB.
So why does Mr Paterson insist that the cull will go ahead? Only ‘pilot’ culls, a few sentences after he’s said that badger culling will work against bovine TB only if ‘carried out over a large enough area for a sufficient length of time’. Contradicting himself, eh? I think it’s pretty clear why he says he’ll go ahead with the cull. He gave this speech at a conference about farming. As Alistair Driver at the Farmers Guardian wrote, the National Farmers Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall asked Mr Paterson to have badgers culled next year.
After saying this, perhaps Mr Paterson hoped that the audience had stopped listening. He went on to say that badger culling is ‘only one element of the Government’s approach to tackling bovine TB… strengthen cattle movement controls, increase our surveillance testing regime and invest in research into badger and cattle vaccines… also.. better diagnostic techniques such as PCR.’
PCR? What’s that? How to lose your audience’s attention. Please Close Receivers…
I hope you’re still reading. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) has many uses, including diagnostics. It detects particular DNA sequences. I’ve run many thousands of PCRs. It’s not yet ready to be useful for diagnosing TB in cattle but I agree with Mr Paterson that this is something to look forward to. So keep funding good research, Government!
Vaccine? Sounds good, doesn’t it? But I wrote about how badger vaccination needs more development. So like I said, keep funding good research, Government!
Meanwhile, you know my opinion about Mr Paterson’s other point. I wrote that I think restrictions on cattle movement are the way forward for TB control.
Mr Paterson says he’ll strengthen cattle movement controls and I’m waiting to see him do that. Perhaps it won’t immediately please his supporters in the farming world, but I hope he pushes it through. Needs must.
PS I’ve just found that Matthew at The Bovine TB Blog says we do need to cull badgers.