Slaying badgers to save cows is all bull

Scientists are against it, wildlife campaigners are against it, the public’s against it. Call me cynical, but surely that means only one thing, the government must be all for it. Let’s ask Environment Minister Owen Patterson: “Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do”

That’ll be a yes, then? The Government wants to kill badgers. Little cute, fluffy, badgers….aw, look at them: with their wee stripy noses, sharp teeth and violent temperament…

The most alarming thing about badgers is actually something that you can’t see – they carry tuberculosis. This isn’t a problem for you or me, but it does pose a threat to cattle – once infected, the disease can spread throughout herds; infected animals are destroyed, and the remainder are kept in quarantine. All the while, the can make no money from their livestock. So you can see why there’s a strong push to cull badgers.  But that it won’t work.

A piece in the Guardian asserts that a cull in the 1970s failed to reduce infection rates (when there were only 1000 cases per year, today the number is 30 times that). It also states that bovine TB does not actually affect cattle on Scottish farms, yet we still have plenty of badgers.

A press release from the Independent Scientific Group notes: “A scientific review of the issue… in 1997, concluded that there was “compelling” evidence that badgers were involved in transmitting infection to cattle. However, it noted that the development of TB policy was hampered because the effectiveness of badger culling as a control measure could not be quantified with data then available.”

I’ll cut to the chase here, if you hold a scientific study then you need a control measure to judge effectiveness of whatever you are studying. For example, if you’re a drug company and have a new flu remedy to test, you’ll need a group of people taking the new remedy, and a group that doesn’t (usually they take a “sugar pill”).

In this case, there just wasn’t a sugar pill used. The conclusion they reached must have been along the lines of “We found that where badgers mixed with cattle, cattle were infected with bovine TB” But what about the areas where cattle didn’t mix with badgers – were bovine TB rates more or less? The aforementioned Guardian article refers to the movement of cattle – mixing and travelling much greater distances than badgers ever could?

Besides, these guys are scientists – they know what they’re talking about. The vast majority of politicians, especially junior ministers, do not. I know who I trust.

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