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Top badger cull scientist criticises Government pilot "fiasco"

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: December 10, 2013


Lord Krebs: "I was quoted months ago in the Press saying that the pilot cull was a crazy scheme. It seems to me it has got even crazier.”

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A scientific expert who oversaw badger culling in the 1990s has labelled the Government's controversial pilot culls a "complete fiasco" and "even crazier" than anticipated.

Lord Krebs, who instigated the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials, told peers there is "no point doing something if it's the wrong thing" after the schemes in Somerset and Gloucestershire missed their targets.

But in response, a Government minister warned tuberculosis in cattle will be "endemic through the whole of England" without culling wildlife.

The two pilots, which were testing the shooting of free-running badgers before possible widespread expansion of culling next year, fell short of the 70% target for badgers to be culled.

In Gloucestershire, only 40% of the local badger population was shot dead by trained marksmen despite an extension of more than five weeks, which itself was abandoned three weeks early.

The Somerset cull was marginally more successful, getting closer at 65%. But the total number of animals that needed to be shot at both locations were revised down after an updated head count discovered fewer badgers living in the areas.

But Lord Krebs, who is pressing for greater cattle control, said during a House of Lords debate in grand committee: "We now know the pilots have been a complete fiasco. There has been confusion about the number of badgers in each area, as well as the target proportion to be shot, and farmers completely failed to meet the target number in the allotted time."

The independent crossbencher Lord Krebs made three references to comments made by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who blamed the failure to hit culling targets on the animals themselves, saying: "The badgers have moved the goalposts."

Criticising his Whitehall department, Lord Krebs said:  "We know that Secretary of State accused badgers of moving the goalposts.

"But there is another possible interpretation: it might just be Defra did not have a clue about how many badgers there were in the areas."

A roll-out could mean culling in neighbouring Devon and even into Cornwall – both considered bovine TB hotspots.

The disease, said to be spread by badgers, led to the slaughter of 28,000 animals last year – more than 20,000 in the South West – at a cost of £100 million to the taxpayer.

Lord Krebs said while the disease needed to be tackled, there is "no point doing something if it's the wrong thing".

He told peers: "I was quoted months ago in the Press saying that the pilot cull was a crazy scheme. It seems to me it has got even crazier." 

He went on to argue there are "more effective and cheaper ways of controlling TB in cattle". 

He said: "We have already heard about the idea of vaccination, but in the short-term before vaccines become effective, putting in place rigorous measures to prevent transmission of the disease between badgers and cattle, and among cattle, would be a more effective policy in achieving a 16% reduction that trying to kill badgers.

"If Defra were to turn its attention to this solution, farmers, scientists and conservationists would all be relieved, and the badgers would take a rest from the task of moving the goalposts."

In response, Defra minister Lord de Mauley argued cattle restrictions alone "will not reverse the inexorable spread of this devastating disease". 

He confirmed an independent panel would report back on the success of the pilots in the New Year, and Lord de Mauley said for the first time a decision on rolling out the cull would be made by the end of February.

He denied claims the culls were spreading bovine TB further, and admitted estimating badger populations is "difficult".

But he said completing the South West pilots was a "significant achievement", and praised farmers for "not wilting" in the face of a "sustained campaign of harassment, intimidation and widespread criminal activity".

In a strong defence of badger culling, he said: "Unless we tackle bovine TB in badgers, I fear that not only will we never eradicate it in cattle and free our livestock farmers of a huge burden but we will see the disease in cattle and the accompanying burden continue to grow and to spread until the disease is endemic through the whole of England."

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  • mmjames  |  December 11 2013, 9:17PM

    Pink_Diesel Tuesday, December 10 2013, 10:20PM Firstly there is NO similarities between Tuberculosis and FMD. Secondly there has been whole herd slaughter in UK too. ONE huge difference is that in UK wildlife controls do not happen while in France they do. Go figure

    Rate   -4
  • Clued-Up  |  December 11 2013, 9:00PM

    I've been watching parliamentary TV's coverage of todays badger cull debate. MPs are obviously as peeved and shocked as the rest of us by DEFRA ministers' behaviour. Owen Paterson didn't turn up (surprise, surprise), leaving his hapless junior (George Eustice) to field questions. He looked rather forlorn and uncomfortable. He didn't try to answer any of the questions he was asked. About three-quarters of the MPs who spoke felt the cull had been an unmitigated disaster and wanted it stopped. Two of the MPs present at the debate said they could no longer support the cull. Many MPs wanted the project totally reappraised and for the badger cull issue to come back for a full parliamentary debate.

    Rate   4
  • Mikethepike  |  December 11 2013, 5:10PM

    Anyone expecting Owen Paterson to accept the expert panel's assessment of the trials --if it is critical--are living in cloud cuckoo land. He alters his arguments and his claims at every turn. He is a man on a mission--to give the NFU and what he sees as the farming vote what they want, a a massive badger slaughter extending for decades. Science sways him only if it supports his boorish country squire opinions. If it doesn't he ignores it or cherry picks fragments which appear to justify his actions. Sadly, his blinkered approach will serve farmers very badly because the solutions to bTB lie not in badger slaughter (with all the negative knock-on perturbation effects) but tough controls over cattle movements (it is madness to keep buying cattle from bTB hotspots), enforced biosecurity (if you want taxpayers' funded compensation then put disesase control measures in place), and--top of the list--effective testing. The skin test is OK as a herd test, for it finds some of the disease, but it fails as a test which says to the farmer "all your cattle are clean". All the badger slaughter Paterson can dream up is useless while that fatally flawed skin test allows undiagnosed disease carriers to stay in herds and to be moved around the country.

    Rate   5
  • Free2opine  |  December 11 2013, 11:25AM

    Item 10 should read "prematurely ended"

    Rate 0
  • Free2opine  |  December 11 2013, 10:30AM

    "Notice the differences between the live testing regime of the early 1990s, the Badger Removal Operations of the mid 1990s and the Krebs Trial. Part 2 7. The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. The Wildlife Unit had many great ideas on how to reduce costs vastly. Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered. 8. The Public and the NFU are demanding that "professionals" remain involved to ensure adequate training is given to those with the task to do, and to ensure that animal welfare and humaneness remains a number one priority. Overseeing the task will give some comfort to those who fear that this might not be the way. 9. Compulsory entry onto farms is a must when considering what Policy to adopt. Making farms who receive Government subsidies participate in one of its schemes must be made compulsory. Krebs has proven that wide scale non-cooperation does make it nigh on impossible to operate effectively. 10. The Krebs Reactive strategy was prematurely. The results used also showed us that, in areas never operated in (areas J2 and H1 which had a very limited cull) also displayed the same increase in TB outside of the areas. That has to have another logical reason for the increase, as it clearly was not badger culling related. This point has yet to be satisfactorily answered. 11. The combined knowledge of the staff involved in all of the previous culling strategies has never been utilised or sought when putting together a Policy. 12. Be prepared to change a policy, to let it evolve, is a must. All strategies have seen staff restrained in what they would like to do, often flying in the face of common sense. Taking the risk—isn't that what it often needs to make things work properly? We have been shackled for too many years by rules and red tape—now is the time to be radical and make things change for the better.

    Rate   -4
  • Free2opine  |  December 11 2013, 10:20AM

    Notice the differences between the live testing regime of the early 1990s, the Badger Removal Operations of the mid 1990s and the Krebs Trial. Part 1 1. Badger removal operations worked well when the land being culled was made fully available, not just the area dictated to us by vets. 2. Where badgers were totally removed from a farm, that farm, after it had its infected cattle culled, often stayed clear of TB for up to 10 years. 3. Staying on farms for up to three months to ensure that ALL badgers were caught—unlike the Krebs eight days per year trapping regime. 4. You do not need large scale culling for it to be effective if the culling effort is robust from the start. 5. Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activist, to being able to trap badgers anywhere in order to eliminate them. That is only one of a raft of operational problems faced and what they had to endure. 6. Limited trapping—eight days per year with Krebs—has little effect if carried out late in the year—the effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull.

    Rate   -3
  • Pink_Diesel  |  December 10 2013, 10:20PM

    The elephant in the room is not a badger. The elephant is a cow, and most bTB transmission is from cattle-to-cattle. The only way to go is whole herd slaughter if even a single case of of bTB s found in a farmer's herd. This worked for FMD. And (but I can no longer find the link, sorry) this is what _apparently_ happens in France. And France is officially bTB clear. The ostrich (the NFU) is burying its head in the sand.

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  • Pink_Diesel  |  December 10 2013, 10:10PM

    Wanting a cull to work is different to a cull working. I would want a cull to work - but lots of very knowledgeable scientists say it will not.

    Rate   11
  • Clued-Up  |  December 10 2013, 10:08PM

    The official transcript of the Lords badger cull debate yesterday makes it pretty clear the next battle will be whether the advice of the independent panel of experts will GUIDE future policy or merely "inform" it. The DEFRA minister's speech shows government wants Paterson to be able to ignore the independent panel if the members say what he doesn't want them to; the other speakers want a total reappraisal of the badger cull project, in the expectation it'll be dumped.

    Rate   9
  • barryterry-2  |  December 10 2013, 7:37PM

    The very knowledgeable Lord Krebs in the House of Lords yesterday: "In concluding, I emphasise that the focus on killing badgers is misplaced. We all agree that TB is a dreadful problem for farmers, particularly in the south-west, and that something has to be done to bring it under control. However, there is no point in doing something if it is the wrong thing. The sad fact is that there are more effective and cheaper ways of controlling TB in cattle. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about the idea of vaccination. However, in the short term, before vaccines became effective, putting in place rigorous measures to prevent transmission of the disease between badgers and cattle, and among cattle, would be a more effective policy in achieving a 60% reduction than trying to kill badgers. If Defra were to turn its attention to this solution, farmers, scientists and conservationists would all be relieved, and badgers would be able to take a rest from their task of moving the goal posts."

    Rate   14