Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease which develops slowly, spreading from the lungs to other organs. In cattle (Bos primigenius) it’s called bovine tuberculosis (bTB), caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis.
Joanne Pugh at the Farmers Guardian explains how bTB works. As well as M. bovis, there are M. tuberculosis which is the human pathogen and M. avium which is a bird pathogen.
As Ms Pugh explains, people can catch M. bovis from milk when the disease lesions have spread to the cow’s udder. Other mammals including the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) can catch M. bovis from droplets when the cow coughs.
Some people blame badgers for a continuing, increasing problem of bTB in British cattle. That problem is at its worst in the West Country (South West England). So it’s in the West Country that farmers care most about plans to cull (kill) badgers by shooting them. You can see more under my tags ‘badger’ and ‘tuberculosis’.
M. meles is a native species here in Britain. It’s protected by law, so you’re not allowed to kill it without a licence. Attmpts to start ‘pilot culls’ have been failing for several years already. Here’s a report about how culling didn’t start in 2010. It didn’t start in 2011 either. In September 2012 a licence to shoot badgers was awarded. Six weeks later, in October, before any badgers were shot, the cull was put on hold over the winter. Eight months later, in June 2013, more licences were awarded and the cull was supposed to start at last. It still hasn’t started.
I’ve written about why I think shooting badgers is a daft idea. I’m glad to see news of restrictions on cattle movements. According to the science, as I’ve said, restrictions on cattle movements are expected to be the best way forward.
The tightened restrictions were announced by our Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, a Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem). His boss is our Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, a Conservative (Tory) who ordered the badger cull. Tories and Lib Dems are in power here, in a Tory-led coalition. I mostly avoid blogging about politics but I’ll say that, in my opinion, the Tories are using the Lib Dems as their fall guys. I think the badger cull is one example of this.
That wasn’t a typo. I said that the Tories are using the Lib Dems as their fall guys over the badger cull. I said that because the cull is popular with some farmers, represented by the National Farmers Union (NFU), but it’s unpopular with some of the general public. Mr Paterson is walking a tightrope here. Hey, that’s his job! He’s a career politician. So is Mr Heath.
Here’s a farming perspective. Andy Greenwood at This Is Cornwall told us this week that badgers aren’t actually being shot, yet, and that West Country farmers are frustrated about it.
Here’s another perspective. The Badger Trust told us this week about press releases from our Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Mr Paterson is head of DEFRA and Mr Heath works there. The Badger Trust comments on the DEFRA press releases, concluding that ‘Badgers are a drop in [the] ocean of [the bTB] muddle.’