Badgers: Disease Control

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 28th June 2021.

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Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if he will publish the scientific data for continuing the badger cull.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Our bTB eradication strategy is founded in science. The cornerstone of our strategy is a policy of regular testing and removal of infected cattle from herds. We have incrementally introduced tougher restrictions on cattle movements from herds at risk of infection and more sensitive tests. We have introduced measures to encourage greater risk management and more information for cattle keepers, deployed wildlife controls in areas where the disease is rife and new biosecurity measures to try to break the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers.

Intensive badger culls were only ever envisaged as a phase of the strategy. Following Professor Sir Charles Godfray’s review, we have set out our intended next steps. The next phase of the strategy focuses on developing a deployable cattle vaccine, wider rollout of badger vaccination and improvements to TB testing. The Government will retain the ability to introduce new cull zones where local epidemiological evidence points to an ongoing role of badgers in the disease.

The main scientific evidence basis for the badger cull is the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) carried out from 1997 to 2005. Using data from the start of the RBCT, it has been estimated through mathematical modelling that infected badgers contributed to some 50% of cattle herd TB breakdowns in high incidence areas, either directly or indirectly.

More recent analysis published by the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) estimates that between 5,000 and 14,000 farms are exposed to infected wildlife and 36% of new TB breakdowns are directly due to wildlife. This study can be found here https://bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12917-018-1595-9.pdf

In October 2019 a study by the APHA demonstrated that the cull has resulted in significant reductions in the spread of the disease to cattle, showing reductions of 66% and 37% in the two areas who had culled for four years, compared to matched comparison areas where culling did not take place. The study can be found at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49957-6.

The APHA published raw data in October 2020 which shows encouraging trends of reduced incidence and prevalence across the first 32 cull areas compared with the years before culling began. Compared with the average of the four years before culling started, OTFW incidence has dropped by an average of 27% after 2 years, 51% after 4 years and 53% after 6 years in the first twenty-one, three and two areas respectively. The data can be found on gov.uk here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-incidence-of-tb-in-cattle-in-licenced-badger-control-areas-in-2013-to-2019

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