Report suggests testing more effective than culls in bTB fight

A new research report shows that testing cattle for bovine TB (bTB) would be more effective than badger culls in the fight to control the disease.

Published in the Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment, the research found that vigilant cattle testing and whether cattle are held in winter housing had the biggest impact on the number of infected cattle.

The researchers used a computer simulation to show a region containing about 1.5 million cows, including 15,000 with TB, where badger culling prevented just 12 cases.

The report therefore questioned the effectiveness of badger culls. Professor Matthew Evans, from Queen Mary, University of London, where the research was carried out, said: “Whether badgers were culled or not explained about 5%, while the accuracy of the test employed to detect infected cattle explained less than 3% of the variance in the number of infected cattle.”

However, a spokesperson for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), working in the infected areas, has rejected the report, stating the conclusions “fly in the face of the experiences of most farmers, who say that the biggest risk to their cattle isn’t being housed in winter but when they are turned out into the fields in the spring.

“Cattle in high risk TB areas are tested at least annually and herds placed under restriction have to pass two consecutive TB tests 60 days apart. Testing any more frequently than that would simply not be practical.”

This was echoed by a Defra spokesperson, who said: “It’s clear that there is no single measure that will on its own achieve control of TB.

“That is why we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy to tackle bovine TB, which includes regular cattle testing, tighter cattle movement controls, vaccinations and culling in areas where the disease is widespread.”

However, the research does support opposition to the badger cull. Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: “The role badgers play in spreading this disease has been massively exaggerated, and the impact of culling them has been completely misunderstood.”

The NFU has called for a further roll-out of the badger cull, claiming the pilots in Somerset and Gloucester have been effective.

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