Should farmers cull badgers?


       I have had several emails opposed to the badger cull and in favour of vaccination programmes to deal with TB in cattle.

      Yesterday I attended the debate in the Commons. I used that opportunity, and a briefing meeting with Ministers a day earlier, to make representations directly to Ministers  on this issue.

        I explained how many people want to see vaccination rather than culling being used to control this outbreak. Ministers reply that under EU rules milk and meat from vaccinated cattle cannot be sold or used, as the authorities cannot distinguish between a vaccinated cow and an infected one.  When pressed, Ministers agree that work is underway to be able to test cattle to distinguish between the effects of vaccine and the disease, but this has not yet reached a point which satisfies the rule makers in Brussels. I suggsted they press on with this work as quickly as possible.

        Some have suggested vaccines for the badgers. Ministers point out that  trying to catch and vaccinate them all would be extremely difficult as they are wild and shy animals. Vaccinating the current badger population would  not cure infected badgers, who would still be free to roam and infect cattle.

        Ministers accept that more disease is probably transmitted from infected cattle to other cattle than from badgers. They have taken stricter measures to combat this, by placing infected herds in quarantine and requiring slaughter of infected animals. That is why so many cattle are now being slaughtered before the end of their normal working lives.  

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† I have urged them to use the¬†year’s delay ¬†that results from the deferred cull to see if a¬† better solution can be found. Yesterday some MPs carried a motion against the government policy, but the government made clear the vote is not binding.


  1. Greg Tingey
    October 26, 2012

    Well, tell Brussels to stuff it, and get a working vaccine in as fast as possible, then!
    Agree about “unclean” cattle – but of course, it is much easier for farmers to blame the badgers …
    Reminds me of the completely fake campaign to get the Little Owl declared vermin in the 1930’s, or the myths about buzzards taking lambs & sheep ….
    Oh, and don’t some deer carry TB as well?


  2. RDM
    October 26, 2012

    Well, OK, but I have a few points?

    1) Aren’t the Irish vaccinating already. The expensive vaccine from NZ?

    2) What is required is for both (and others) to be vaccinated.

    3) A hand spreadable, edible by all, vaccine would be ideal? I mean; not injected, too labour intensive. And we know how we dislike anything to do with Labour!

    4) The vaccines development needs to be funded ASAP.



  3. Nicol Sinclair
    October 26, 2012

    Whoops! Pressed the wrong button! Sorry, do moderate me…

  4. stan francis
    October 26, 2012

    Okay John, all taken on board, but one thing many people and BRUSSELS FORGET, if we are concerned about the cattle cannot be consumed after the Badger is vaccinated, what of the cattle that’s pumped full of drugs for PROFIT only for teh FARMERS to give them more meat, that we humans have to consume, we are never consulted about how we feel-is the animal thought about when they are pushed via DRUGS to be a bigger animal than they were ORIGNIALLY designed to be?-questions John and you say they cannot catch a BADGER, but they can shoot it from afar?-WILL WE have the same expert shooters as we had as security guards at the OLYMPICS-I live in a rural area where most of us in the village have dogs and where do we exercise them, in fields and where will these GUNGHO shooters be hanging around?-has a Risk Assessment been carried out to see ASSESS the chance of a dog or human being shot by mistsake?-and are you telling me that every BADGER will be CLEAN KILLED?

    1. bssfdffgg
      March 15, 2013


  5. stan francis
    October 26, 2012

    Dear Faugh, (also disgusted)they wouldn’t shoot deer becuase it’s a protected species only to be shot when the Royals have an arranged shoot?

  6. stan francis
    October 26, 2012

    Dear Faugh, (also disgusted)they wouldn’t shoot deer becuase it’s a protected species only to be shot when the Royals have an arranged shoot?

  7. Antisthenes
    October 26, 2012

    My belief is that true democracy supersedes all other considerations that is power rests with the people and should move upwards not as it does now from top to bottom. The culling of badgers does however present the dilemma in this concept as popular opinion (probably) would under true democracy result in no badgers being culled. This is the case where the top is right and the bottom is wrong in expediency terms at least, there is no doubt that the same situation is true on many other occasions. So should that be an argument in favour of not adopting true democracy? No I believe it does not for many reasons. One of the most significant being that the people being involved and being the final arbiter in matters political, economic and social will learn from their mistakes or triumphs as they become more involved in decision making and more acutely aware observers of the outcomes of those decisions. The buck will truly rest with the decision makers with no scapegoats to blame when things go wrong. With our current systems the buck rarely rests anywhere even though bureaucrats, public sector workers and politicians so often get things wrong all that occurs is that the same trite comment is made ” lessons have been learnt” only to find that they have not or that knee jerk reaction has sent the problem in a different direction without curing it. Another of course is that although individuals may be predominantly poor decision makers collectively they are much better at making those decisions the larger the body of opinion the greater the chance of getting it right.

  8. Dan H.
    October 26, 2012

    Speaking as a biologist here, there are a few reasons why vaccination against bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is not a good idea. First and foremost, the protective effect from the vaccination seems only to last a year or two at most, and then only in animals (such as cows or humans) which are relatively resistent to bTB. Recent experiments conducted by DEFRA on wild badgers demonstrated that even if rather high doses of BCG vaccine were used, the protective effect only covered about 60% of badgers, and this was right at the point when this effect would be at its strongest!

    Extrapolating from these experimental results, it can clearly be seen that the levels of immunisation needed for a good herd immunity effect cannot be reached in badgers with this vaccine. As BCG is an attenuated live vaccine which actually sets up a shortlived infection in any animal innoculated with it, I don’t see how we can produce a stronger vaccination effect.

    Furthermore, badgers live socially in groups and spend quite a lot of time underground in burrows where the humidity approaches 100%. Dessication and ultraviolet light are the two ways of killing pathogens in the environment; once badger setts are contaminated with bTB bacteria, they can be expected to remain a source of contagion for a long time. Indeed this perfect transmission environment is likely why the disease spreads so vigorously in badgers; that and the fact that they seem to be very poor indeed at resisting tuberculosis.

    The best way out of this is to immediately start gassing badger setts in the most heavily infected areas using carbon monoxide gas to reduce the numbers of infected individuals, and to secondarily conduct trials to create a contraceptive vaccine for badgers. This latter tactic would likely be especially effective on badgers, as they exhibit a phenomenon called “delayed implantation”; this means that whilst the females may conceive at any time of year, their embryos only start to develop in the late winter period. Interfering with the implantation process immunologically would likely be quite easy, and a cheap way of dramatically cutting the badger breeding success rate.

    Either way, we need to do something and to do it fast. Merely culling infected cows isn’t enough; we’ve been trying this for a decade and bTB has been exploding exponentially for most of that time. We simply have far too many infected badgers, and some would argue too many badgers of any sort; we need to reduce the population and remove the infection.

    After all, dying of tuberculosis hurts a badger just as much as it does a cow; failing to prevent animals suffering in this way is simply inhumane. We owe it to badgers to act.

    1. DennisA
      October 27, 2012

      I would agree regarding the vaccination of badgers, it is too complex and difficult, however the vaccination of cattle is far more easily accomplished, because they are captive. At the moment there is little incentive for the production of cattle vaccine, because there is no market for the end product due to EU rules.

      We don’t cull infected cows, we cull reactors to the skin test, which simply means that the cow has antibodies to bTB, implying that it has been at some stage in contact with the disease. It does not necessarily mean the animal is infected or infectious.

      BTB is not exploding exponentially. DEFRA figures show a decline in new herd incidents from 2008 to 2011 and no significant increase in numbers of herds from which “officially TB free” status was withdrawn.

      Total cattle slaughtered is down by 12% from 2008 to 2011 and from 2008 to 2012 is down by 48% with only two months left of the year.

      The numbers of “direct contact” animals removed, (non-reactors) went down from 3604 in 2005 to just 347 so far this year, less than 1997.

      These figures do not show a deepening crisis situation. The past decade up- surge in bTB co-incided with the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001. The pattern since then is starting to show the prospects of a typical bell curve and whilst badgers have been “associated” with bovine TB, they cannot be empirically proven to be responsible for the situation in cattle. To embark on a “slaughter of wildlife” policy is simply to give farmers a “feel good factor”. Something must be done and seen to be done, regardless of its efficacy.

      No doubt if the current trend continues downwards, had the proposed cull been implemented now, it would be hailed as a successful policy. No-one actually knows how many badgers are infected with bTB and gassing or shooting them indiscriminately is unscientific and barbaric.

      Your final statement seems to have a Defra imprint on it and was used on TV by Mr Paterson or one of his deputies. Dear Mr Badger, we are shooting you for your own good.

  9. M. Hughes
    October 26, 2012

    An injectable badger vaccine is already quite widely in use; work on an oral vaccine continues; and the DIVA test which distinguishes vaccinated cattle from infected cattle is within short-term reach. The Coalition which protests that no country has ever eradicated bTB without culling wildlife conveniently forgets that we almost did–back in the 1950s and 60s–without killing any badgers. It was the lifting of tight controls over cattle movements which then allowed the disease to flourish. Killing tens of thousands of badgers will merely slow down the rate of increase in bTB, by some 16 per cent over nine years. That’s more than enough time to persuade the EU to accept the products from vaccinated UK cattle and ample time to let the long overdue new controls over cattle to take effect. The Coalition policy makers are too close to the NFU and big business agricultural interests. These new controls ought to have been introduced years ago. Badgers are a side issue and a badger slaughter is political not scientific.

    1. Dr Dan H.
      October 31, 2012

      By the term “an injectable badger vaccine”, I assume you are referring to the BCG vaccine. As has often been noted in academic papers (, BCG does not prevent infection of a badger by wild-type bovine tuberculosis (bTB), but it does slow down the progression of the disease and reduces the amount of bacteria shed by the infected individual, provided that the vaccination is done before the animal is infected with bTB. It appears that badgers simply don’t produce particularly strong immune responses to mycobacteria at all.

      Now, if we were talking about a zoonosis which didn’t cause much economic loss then this level of effectiveness would be acceptable. Unfortunately this isn’t the case; bTB is extremely infectious and readily infects most mammals, including domestic cats and humans as well as badgers, cows, sheep, deer, pigs and camelids (llamas in particular are very susceptible). In all cases treatment is difficult and expensive and prolonged, and as mentioned before, vaccines simply do not prevent infection in many cases.

      Epidemiologically, bTB exists in a number of identifiable forms called spoligotypes. These amount to genetic races, which do not change over time. Were bTB primarily spread cow to cow, one would expect that a geographical map of bTB spoligotypes over time would be a near-random and rapidly changing mosaic of types.

      However, if most transmission is from a mostly sedentary wildlife host to incoming clean cattle, one would expect the geographical map of spoligotypes to be very stable. This latter pattern is the one observed; the geographical pattern of bTB spoligotypes has not changed significantly for over twenty years.

      Epidemiological evidence therefore blows the “cow to cow transmission” hypothesis out of the water; it simply isn’t true. It undoubtedly was true in the past, before stringent biosecurity and testing regimes were in place, but it isn’t true now.

      Badgers are the primary source of the bTB bacteria infecting cows in Britain, and since vaccination has been experimentally demonstrated to be useless, the only alternative is to use the method that we know works and which was used to almost wipe out bTB last time, which is stringent culling of badgers.

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