Editorial: These badger culls represent the triumph of politics over science

Scientist after eminent scientist has concluded that there is little hard research to justify the decimation of badger populations. So why is the Government going ahead?

Share

The Government is in a difficult place when it comes to the culling of badgers. With bovine tuberculosis – which can be carried by the creatures – ravaging Britain’s dairy and beef industries, the authorities are under pressure to be seen to be doing something to help the thousands of farmers whose livelihoods are in jeopardy. The decision to pursue a cull of badgers, which will start this weekend, is the triumph of political expediency over scientific evidence, however.

Historically, this newspaper took the view that the risks from bovine TB were so great, and the link to badgers so clear, that a cull, while regrettable, was necessary. Subsequently, however, scientist after eminent scientist has concluded that there is little hard research to justify the decimation of badger populations, which is also passionately opposed by animal lovers. In fact, for all the sound and fury in favour of a cull, Lord Krebs, the eminent Oxford zoologist who conducted the last detailed review of the practice, is just one of an array of experts who have denounced it.

Why? Because trials have shown that killing territorial animals such as badgers only exacerbates the problem. Vacated areas are soon colonised by other badgers, and more movement of badgers means more movement of TB, and that means an increased risk to cattle on the fringes of the culling area. There may be some small benefits for farmers in the central part of the killing zone, but for the rest the situation is worse than ever.

The Government insists that this weekend’s pilot cull in two areas will address this fundamental flaw by using rivers, motorways and other boundaries to limit badgers’ movements to and from the killing zones. But no one knows how effective the technique will prove to be.

Neither is there a clear-cut economic case for going ahead with a cull. One recent assessment, for example, found that for every 150km² plot of land where badger-culling takes place, the total costs – including the policing required to deter protesters – come to more than £1.5m. Meanwhile, the savings in terms of TB prevention in cattle amount to only about £970,000. Hardly the best use of all-too-scarce public money.

The Government cannot sit back and do nothing when the livelihoods of thousands of cattle farmers and a £15bn-a-year industry are threatened with devastation. Some 115,000 people are employed in the dairy and beef industries, which generate exports worth about £2bn a year. And there is a real problem here. Since the 1980s, Britain has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases of bovine TB, with the number of cattle testing positive shooting up from just 235 in 1986 to more than 28,500 in 2010. Behind these numbers lies real hardship for affected farmers and their families.

Furthermore, ever since bovine TB was found in badgers in 1971, the finger of blame for spreading the disease has pointed at the endearing creature immortalised as the gruff and solitary Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows. There is good scientific evidence that badgers do help to spread TB in cattle, although other animals, both domestic and wild, may also play some role. But the central issue is how to limit the spread of the disease. Better biosecurity on farms and improved vaccines are both parts of the solution. According to the scientific and economic evidence, culling is not – no matter how much the Government wants it to be.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

MI Analyst-Reporting-Bank-Edinburgh-£260/day

£230 - £260 per day + competitive: Orgtel: MI Analyst-Reporting-Bank-Edinburgh...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

KS1 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £45000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” following Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip  

i Editor's Letter: Douglas Carswell's defection

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Theresa May  

Democracy and the police: a system in crisis

Nigel Morris
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone