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Badger culling

This presents the basis on which Hilary Benn decided to oppose the culling of badgers in July 2008.

For documents relating to current DEFRA policy, please refer to the DEFRA web site.

In the Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB released in June 2007 it says

"We wish to commend Defra for supporting the science programme recommended to it by the ISG. Defra is fortunate to have scientific expertise available at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), and research programmes which are of high international standing. However, we have concerns, previously expressed, concerning the capacity of Defra policy groups to translate scientific findings into policy. This we consider stems, in part, from Defra's own organisational structures which we believe enforce a separation of policy development and the scientific evidence on which policy should be based."

In Hilary Benn's statement to the House of Commons on 7 July 2008, Hilary Benn said the following

"The ISG's final report, published last year, concluded that reactive culling killing badgers in areas where there had been local TB breakdowns made the problem worse; and that proactive culling, which involves taking an area of about 100 sq km and repeatedly culling badgers over a number of years, produced only marginal benefits because although TB was reduced in that area, it increased outside of it because of the disturbance and movement of badgers."

Hilary Benn then went on to say

"badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB".

Work funded by DEFRA at Imperial College London and accepted on 09Apr08 investigated the effects of badger culling following the cessation of culling in the trial areas used in the ISG work reported above. The report shown in Reference 1 states that the final culls were completed in October 2005 and then goes on to say the following.

"Analyses revealed that, during the post-trial period, the incidence of confirmed cattle herd breakdowns was 54% lower inside proactive trial areas than inside survey-only areas. This result was consistent across all ten triplets. However, this effect in the post-trial period was substantially greater than that observed in the during-trial period (23% reduction). There was no evidence of a difference between the effect in the latter part of the trial (last two years during trial) and the first year of the post-trial period.

On land neighboring proactive trial areas, no detrimental effects were observed in the post-trial period: the incidence of confirmed cattle herd breakdowns was 23% lower than that on land neighboring survey-only trial areas. However, again, the effect in the post-trial period was significantly different from the detrimental effect (24% greater incidence) observed in the during-trial period. As with inside trial areas, there was no evidence of a difference between the effect in the latter part of the trial (last two years during-trial) and the first year of the post-trial period."


On 06Nov 08, Jane Kennedy the Minister of State for Farming and the Environment said in the House of Commons that the results in this follow-on work was fully considered by the Secretary of State when he made his decision in July.

Is the decision on badger culling an example of a case where, as inferred by the Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, Defra has wrongly translated scientific findings into policy? Although the ISG may not consider the decision on badger culling to be one such instance, their final report does go on to say that they believe that Defra's own organisational structures enforces a separation of policy development from the scientific evidence on which policy should be based.

References
  1. The effects of annual widespread badger culls on cattle tuberculosis following the cessation of culling
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