Badger Trust says Defra figures prove bTB testing works

Provisional statistics issued by Defra have shown a sizeable drop in bovine tuberculosis (bTB) levels, which the Badger Trust has attributed to an increase in testing.

According to the Badger Trust, more testing is something both it and independent scientists have been demanding for years.

Although Defra continued to justify the cull, the Badger Trust said Defra’s latest monthly bTB briefing indicated a “notable decrease in the incident rate over the last six months”. The Badger Trust attributed the decrease to extra bTB tests on unrestricted herds, which it said was the reason the provisional June 2012 incidence rate was nearly 2% lower than it was for the same period last year.

The Badger Trust said the current data, combined with previous figures, meant there had been a 30% drop in bTB levels, which was twice the 12% to 16% reduction achieved in the randomised badger culling trials (RBCT). It is also 10 times faster than the government’s predicted reduction from the planned badger culls.

A Defra spokeswoman told meatinfo.co.uk that the figures were provisional and there had been a long-term increase of bTB over the years. Defra said: “Our statistics are provisional and it does say this when the figures are released. It does not indicate that tuberculosis has been decreased.

“The increase we have seen in bTB is indisputable and the figures don’t indicate a change in the trend. You cannot really concede the short-term provisional figures with a reduction in TB.”

Defra also added: The figures they [the Badger Trust] are looking at is in percentage, but more cattle have been killed this year than last year. This is because there has been a lot more testing."

Although the figures are provisional, the Badger Trust is adamant these prove testing works, which led it to ask: “Why this unseemly rush to slaughter badgers?”

Badger Trust chairman David Williams said: “Defra’s conclusion that the improved results are down to better testing are very telling. Publicly they attempt to justify the unprecedented slaughter of a protected animal. At the same time, tucked away in a dull routine report, they admit in effect that, way back in 2007, the ISG (the Independent Scientific Group) got it right when they said, after 10 years of research, that the way to bring the spread of bTB under control was not by killing badgers but by toughening up cattle-based measures.”

Williams also explained that the ISG highlighted the “frailties” of the existing testing system, which should have led to tighter controls over the movement of cattle from bTB hotspots. He also said there should have been improved biosecurity on farms, which would also help control disease further.

According to Williams, the government’s response had been wretched, minimal action on the true cause of the disease had been taken and, instead, there had been a rush to “kill and scapegoat” badgers. He said: “The culls should be scrapped, cattle management controls should be much more rigorous; the clear advantages of badger vaccination should be implemented; and every ounce of energy put into making cattle vaccination achievable. Protesting that a cattle vaccine may be years away isn’t good enough.”

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