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The Badger Trust plays down the extent to which badgers are infected.

The culling of badgers is a very emotive issue because badgers are a native species in England and Wales where there has been a reputation2 for badger baiting. This makes a large number of people believe that existing legislation is necessary to protect badgers against these practices. According to the Badger Trust web site1 (current 03 July 2015)

the Badger Trust works to promote the conservation and welfare of badgers and the protection of their setts and habitats for the public benefit.

The trust's funds come from subscriptions from its groups and supporters, donations, legacies, shop sales and various fund raising activities. As such in order to fund its activities it needs to sustain an income stream from its supporters. It follows that in order to fund its activities it is subjected to pressures to put across a strong case to garner support and income. This does not sit well with any desire to report matters in a neutral and balanced way.

The extent to which badgers suffer and die from TB is not known for sure and many people believe that it is not necessary to cull badgers because they are being told that only a small proportion of them carry the infection. This makes many of these people incensed with the idea of culling badgers. They do not believe that this is necessary and they believe that badgers are being used by farmers as scapegoats. Unfortunately in reality TB is likely to be having a large impact on the lives of badgers (as illustrated below). However the trust plays down the extent to which badgers are infected to add weight to opinions thats culls are unnecessary. This boosts membership and donations made to the trust. As an organisation which was set up to promote badger welfare this behaviour is unfortunate.

What evidence is available currently which gives an indication of (a) the extent to which badgers are infected and (b) the extent to which they are dying of TB?

The following is an extract taken from a Guardian article written by Prof Donnelly. Donnelly was the vice chair of the team who oversaw the RBCT. 8

Most badgers aren't infected, is that correct?

The largest study of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in badgers was the randomised badger culling trial, RBCT, which reported in 2007. Nearly 8,900 badgers were culled across large (100 km sq) areas where there was high risk of cattle TB. Their carcasses were subjected to detailed examination and testing, although the standard postmortems missed half of the infections compared with extended postmortems. Overall, 16.6% of the badgers culled between 1998 and 2005 were found to be positive, based on the standard postmortem, indicating that about 33% were actually infected. But this percentage varied geographically and by year in the trial.

In the 4 years from 2006 to 2009, about 300 badgers were anaesthetised and triple tested each year in Gloucestershire.3,4 Although Gloucestershire is the worst county in England for cattle TB, in the 1,201 badger tests taken, 449 were positive. The sensitivity of the triple test is estimated to lie between 61 and 86%. When this is taken into account, about half of the badgers were infected. 1,201 is a large sample and is large enough to generate a meaningful result.

Regarding the extent to which badgers die from TB, this is less well known, and the only large scale study which the author is aware of is in Ref 5 which summarises the study as follows.

During the period 1973 to 1976 inclusive, 1206 badger carcases were examined for evidence of tuberculosis and other diseases. Tuberculosis was the major cause of natural death, killing 39 per cent of the natural death cases, followed by bite wounding and starvation. Road traffic accidents were the greatest single cause of death.

It should be noted that this study was carried out for years 1973 to 1976 and the bovine TB picture today is very different to what it was back in the 70's. Since there is a clear association between cattle disease and badger prevalence in high cattle incidence areas6 and cattle TB is a lot higher today than in the 70's, the proportion of badgers dying of TB would be expected to be a lot higher today than what it was in the 70's. However the actual proportion is not known and can only be speculated.

What proportion of badgers do the Badger Trust report to be infected with TB on the Badger Trust web site in Reference 1?

The following is an extract from the bovine TB page in Reference 1 (current 20 Nov 2014).

Q: So not all badgers are infected?

A: Far from it. Most badgers are healthy. The Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) which form the basis of the ISG's final report and recommendations showed that even in bTB hotspots less than one in seven badgers were infected and when road-killed badgers from seven hotspot counties were examined the figures were almost the same (15 per cent infected).

Reference 7, which was published in 2008, reports that as a result of more thorough tests performed on the badgers caught during the RBCT, the overall sensitivity of the standard protocol used in the RBCT was estimated to be 54.6 per cent. Another words the more thorough tests found that half the badgers detected to be infected in the more thorough examinations were missed in the RBCT less-thorough examinations. It is the figures in the less thorough examinations which the Badger Trust reports on its web site. As such the trust made no allowance for the sensitivity of the post-mortems performed during the RBCT and have misled the public into thinking that the prevalence of infection in badgers is half of what it really is.

It is such a shame that the Badger Trust are not accountable for the material which they present on their web site because they are reinforcing prejudice. This makes TB control in both cattle and badgers more difficult. One of the ways in which they are doing this is by making people question the need for badger culls through playing down the impact of TB in badgers. The Badger Trust should be working to promote the conservation and welfare of badgers. Any efforts to achieve this are actually being hampered by the trust playing down the seriousness of the disease in badgers. Lack of balance in their arguments and the way in which they report data selectively to incite feelings in conjunction with arousing public speaking by their current [26Feb15] chief executive, Dominic Dyer, maintains the trust's income stream. Such a stream is used to support the trust's campaigns and judicial reviews against government attempts to reduce the disease.

References

  1. Badger Trust. Help us to Protect Badgers.
  2. The conservation and management of the European badger (Meles meles). Nature and environment, No. 90. Council of Europe. Authored by H.I Griffiths and D.H Thomas. 1997.
  3. BCG Vaccination Reduces Risk of Tuberculosis Infection in Vaccinated Badgers and Unvaccinated Badger Cubs. PLOS ONE. Stephen P. Carter et al. Published 12th Dec 2012.
  4. TB prevalence of badgers in vaccination study in Gloucestershire 2006-2009. PLOS ONE. Stephen P. Carter et al. Published 12th Dec 2012.
  5. Cause of ill health and natural death in badgers in Gloucestershire. Vet Rec. 1979 Dec 15;105(24):546-51. Gallagher J, Nelson J.
  6. Bovine TB: Epidemiology and Ecology of a Multi-Host Disease. Percentage of total herds with reactor cattle. Presentation by Christl Donnelly & (in sprit) Rosie Woodroffe.
  7. Comparison of a standard and a detailed postmortem protocol for detecting Mycobacterium bovis in badgers.
  8. The badger cull - key science questions answered. Christl Donnelly. The Guardian, 11 October 2013.
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Last Modified 13 May 2017 09:22
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