Badger extermination "not viable" say Irish researchers
14 January 2005
Badger extermination is not a viable way to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle, researchers in Ireland have concluded.
In the first major paper  on the Republic of Ireland's Four Areas badger culling trial, published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, the researchers conclude: "Although feasible, we acknowledge that widespread badger removal is not a viable strategy for the long-term control of tuberculosis in the Irish cattle population".
Dr Elaine King, chief executive for the National Federation of Badger Groups, says: "This trial suggests that badger culling only reduces TB in cattle if every single badger is exterminated. Even if you exclude the moral and political implications of such a strategy, the Irish study does not show whether the effect is large enough to warrant the massive economic cost of the slaughter."
The NFBG contacted the paper's correspondence author, statistician Dr David Williams, to establish why the researchers had concluded that culling was "feasible" but "not viable". He said: "It would be technically possible to try and do it if it were legal or desirable or moral. But it's neither legal  nor morally justified , or anything like that, especially when there are alternatives." 
The trial involved exterminating 2,360 badgers across 1,214 square kilometres in Cork, Donegal, Kilkenny and Monaghan between 1997 and 2002. This is similar to the "proactive" badger culling strategy currently being implemented in the so-called Krebs' experiment in Britain, but badgers have been virtually eradicated from the study areas in Ireland .
TB in cattle from these "removal" areas was compared to TB in cattle from "reference" areas - a weakened equivalent of a scientific control . The researchers report that the chance of a herd of cattle not having a TB outbreak for the next five years was between "seven per cent (Donegal) and 24 per cent (Kilkenny) higher in removal over reference areas."
Dr King concludes: "This paper fails to answer the key question that every cattle farmer in Britain will be asking: what was the reduction in bovine TB? Eighteen months ago, the Irish researchers told Radio 4 that badger culling reduced TB in cattle by an average of 80 per cent . That claim is simply not supported by this paper. In fact, it's impossible to determine the actual reduction in TB that has been achieved in Ireland by badger culling.
"We have been advised that the Republic of Ireland has slaughtered more than half its badgers over the last ten years, reducing the population to less than 100,000 badgers . Badger densities are significantly lower in Ireland compared to Britain. Yet in 2002, the last year for which data are available, 6.5 per cent of Irish cattle herds were under TB restriction. In Britain, which has three times more badgers than Ireland, 3.6 per cent of herds are under movement restriction .
"Ireland's futile badger slaughter has simply confirmed that badger culling will never be a solution to the problem of bovine TB. This makes it vital that Defra focuses all its energies on controlling the movement of infected livestock and removing all infected cattle by implementing the more accurate gamma interferon TB test."
Note: The above statement was issued by the National Federation of Badger Groups, a British charity solely dedicated to the conservation and protection of badgers. It represents and supports over 80 local voluntary badger groups and provides expert advice on all badger issues and works closely with the police and other conservation and environment organisations. The NFBG is a member of the British Government's TB Forum.
For more information, contact:
Dr Elaine King
Tel: 020 7228 6444. Fax: 020 7228 6555.
1. The impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland, J.M Griffin et al, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Elsevier, 2005. Available online from www.sciencedirect.com
2. Badgers are protected by the Bern Convention, to which both Britain and Ireland are signatories. Wildlife may be killed under the Convention in order to control disease, but only when alternatives have been tested and implemented. Because alternatives such as the more effective gamma interferon TB test exist, the extermination of badgers to control TB would be a clear breach of the Convention.
3. The Irish paper states that badgers were captured in "restraints" overnight and shot the following morning. "Restraint" is a euphemism for a wire snare. Snares cause terrible injuries to badgers as they struggle to escape, particularly when left for long periods, as revealed in the NFBG's report on snares, available online at http://www.badger.org.uk/action/snares.html.
4. Dr David Williams, personal comment, recorded on 7 January 2005.
5. In 2000, the Irish Government assured the Bern Convention that no more than 80 per cent of badgers were being removed: "Detailed studies of badger removal trials have shown that populations do not reduce below a level of 20% even where extensive removal has taken place (O'Corry-Crowe 1992) unless there are substantial natural barriers." The published paper contradicts this assertion and strongly suggests that all badgers were killed. It states that a: "high frequency of removal was necessary to maximise removal of all resident badgers and any badgers that succeeded in migrating into the area during the study period ... Although removal was generally limited to a single removal operation, removals were repeated if evidence of badger activity was subsequently detected." The paper also states that study areas were selected that had natural barriers, to prevent badger immigration. Where natural barriers were absent, badgers were killed in buffer zones, up to six kilometres wide, to prevent immigration.
6. A scientific control is an area where no action is taken. It acts as a baseline comparison against those areas where action is taken. But reactive badger culling was undertaken in the "reference" areas in the Irish study, on and around farms where TB occurred in cattle. This is significant, as shown on our briefing at: www.badger.org.uk/news/050109-a.pdf and outlined as follows:
In 2003, in the respected scientific journal Nature, Britain's Independent Scientific Group overseeing the Krebs' badger culling experiment revealed that reactive badger culling led to an INCREASE in bovine TB in cattle of more than 25 per cent (Donnelly et al, Impact of localised badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle, 2003, Nature, 426, 834-837).
They suggested that, if the same effect occurred in Ireland, the reactive badger culling in the Irish reference areas could falsely exaggerate the apparent effectiveness of badger culling in Ireland's removal areas.
The Irish researchers deny that this could happen, yet their own paper reveals that badgers culled in reference areas had a 25 per cent higher incidence of TB than those in removal areas: a statistically significant figure which suggests that reactive culling may indeed increase the incidence of TB in badgers.
The Four Areas paper also reveals that: "In all counties prior to the study start, the intensity of licensed badger removal had been higher in the removal compared with the reference areas." Again, this could artificially increase the alleged difference between the reference and removal areas by altering the dynamics of the disease before the study began.
This is underlined by confirmation that the average number of tuberculin reactors per thousand animal tests was significantly higher in three out of the four removal areas than in the reference areas.
7. Dr Leigh Corner, on Farming This Week, BBC Radio 4, 31 May 2003, claimed that badger culling had reduced the absolute number of cattle infected with TB by an average of 80 per cent:
Miriam O'Reilly (M): How much of a dramatic reduction was there in the four areas covered? Dr Leigh Corner (Dr L): If you take the [final?] year of the study compared to the average of the pre-study rate it's in the order of 70-80 per cent. I think in one area it was a 90 per cent reduction in reactives. (M) Is that surprising? (Dr L) It's a good measure of the contribution to the disease in cattle that's coming from badgers. (M) What do you mean by that? (Dr L) Well as I said, in the Four Area study they didn't do anything different in terms of disease control in cattle than they do in other parts of the country*. All they did was take out the badger and in those areas there was about 80 per cent reduction in the amount of disease in the cattle population.
*This also is not correct. The published paper reveals that a different badger culling strategy was adopted in reference areas compared to the rest of the country: "To minimise capture intensity in these areas, the criteria for badger removal were more stringent than routinely used throughout Ireland; in the reference areas, badgers were removed only if there were four or more standard reactors and badgers could be implicated, whereas throughout the rest of the Republic of Ireland (apart from the removal and buffer areas in this study) badgers were removed if there were two or more standard reactors and badgers could be implicated. Therefore, the badger population in the reference areas was less disturbed than throughout most of the rest of the Republic of Ireland."
8. Personal comment, confidential source.
9. In 2002, the last year for which data are available, 6.5 per cent of Irish herds were under TB restriction. In Britain, which has three times as many badgers as Ireland, 3.6 per cent of herds were under movement restriction at the end of November 2004 (http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/index.htm). It is also worth noting that in Kilkenny, one of the Four Areas study counties, the number of herds under restriction was 9.1 per cent - almost three times higher than the average figure in Britain. Of the four counties, Donegal had the lowest incidence of bovine TB. This county also has the lowest stocking densities and smallest herds. It is widely agreed that higher stocking densities and larger herds increase the persistence of bovine TB in cattle.
Minister Coughlan comments on the four area badger study
Ms Mary Coughlan TD, Minister for Agriculture and Food, commented today on the report on the Four Area Badger Study that was presented to her recently by the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA), UCD.
Ms Coughlan said that this scientific study, which was funded by her Department, was carried out in four different geographical regions in Ireland (Cork, Monaghan, Donegal and Kilkenny) over the 1997-2002 period. Its objective was to critically examine the role of badgers as a source of T.B. infection in cattle in Ireland. In essence, the study compared the incidence of T.B. in cattle in matched areas where in removal areas badgers were removed in a proactive manner and in reference areas, where badger disturbance was kept to a minimum. It also compared disease trends in the five years preceding the study with those observed during the study period.
The Minister said that as anticipated the study revealed that the removal of badgers resulted in a very significant decline in the incidence of TB in the cattle herd in the removal areas both by comparison with the reference areas and between the pre-study and the study period, particularly in the final two years of the latter. For example, taking the four areas together, the total number of confirmed herd restrictions in the removal areas for the study period (222 cases) was almost 60% lower than for the pre study period (537 cases). For the reference areas, there was little difference compared with the national trend in the incidence of the disease in the two periods.
Minister Coughlan said that this outcome confirmed the earlier findings of the East Offaly Project that infected badgers were an important source of tuberculosis and a significant constraint to eradication of the disease in cattle in Ireland. However, she pointed out that these results must be seen in the context of the existing comprehensive range of measures already in place to control the spread of the disease. These include mandatory annual testing for all cattle in the national herd, the early removal of reactors, a wildlife programme, continued monitoring of cattle movements through the CMMS, prosecutions in respect of breaches of the various animal disease, welfare and identification regulations and the imposition of penalties where farmers fail to comply with animal disease and other regulations.
Ms Coughlan confirmed that the scheme operated by her Department already contained a significant wildlife dimension aimed at removing badgers in adjacent areas where they are implicated in tuberculosis breakdowns. This strategy, which had been refined in recent years, was implemented under licence from and in co-operation with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Her Department was also involved in a research project, in co-operation with UCD, on the development of a vaccine against tuberculosis in badgers that, if successfully developed, could facilitate the eradication of bovine tuberculosis. However, any vaccine will not be available in the immediate future. The Department also maintained close contacts with others engaged in TB eradication and research at international level.
Concluding, Minister Coughlan said that it will be necessary in the medium term to continue with the existing comprehensive control and eradication measures which, she said, had brought about positive results in recent years in terms of reduced incidence of the disease. For example, the number of reactors removed had fallen in each of the last six years, from some 45,000 in 1998 to 28, 000 last year, and an estimated 25,000 this year. She was confident that this progress can be maintained into the future with the continued operation of the existing measures and the on-going co-operation of farmers and all involved in the livestock industry.
Note for editors: The study is reported in an article entitled "The impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland" now available on the website of the scientific journal 'Preventive Veterinary Medicine'. The paper is due to appear in the January edition of this journal.
ICABS ACTION ITEMS
1. Contact Minister Mary Coughlan
Urgently contact the Minister for Agriculture, Mary Coughlan, and ask her to immediately stop the terrible snaring assault on Ireland's badger population.
Minister Mary Coughlan
2. Contact Minister Dick Roche
Demand that Minister Dick Roche immediately intervenes and refuses to issue further licences for the snaring of badgers. Remind the minister that the Wildlife Act lists badgers as a protected species and that the TB Eradication scheme has been described as "slaughter masquerading as science".
Minister Dick Roche
3. Send Minister Mary Coughlan a campaign postcard
If you would like a "Stop the Badger Snaring Slaughter" postcard to send to Minister Coughlan, please contact us now. If you have friends who would be willing to join this protest by sending in a card, please specify how many cards you require. Thank you.
4. Sign the online petition
Badger Watch Ireland is asking people to sign an online petition at: www.petitiononline.com/dgm001/petition.html. Alternatively, a petition is available to print from the Petitions Page of the ICABS website.
5. Report location of snares
If you know the whereabouts of snares which the Department of Agriculture has set, please contact ICABS or BadgerWatch immediately.
Badger Snaring Gallery
Visit the Badger Snaring Gallery to view images of badgers killed by the Department of Agriculture as part of their so-called TB Eradication Scheme. An estimated 50,000 badgers have been killed so far as part of this scheme which has been described as "slaughter masquerading as science".