Strong views on future bTB control - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Strong views on future bTB control

Richard Gard reports on a recent meeting in Somerset where it was pointed out that policy-makers need to better appreciate local knowledge and farmers need to understand the complexities…

AT a meeting in Somerset in early
February of, mainly, beef farmers it
became clear that there is great
disquiet about continuation of the
badger culling trials that are
currently being promoted locally by
the NFU.

This followed the publication in
January of the findings of a social
science study, funded by DEFRA. The
examination of farmer understanding
of wildlife control options for bovine
TB has a number of key findings that
clash strongly
with
Government
policy. The
findings call
for the
Government
to listen to the
farmers and
the overriding conclusion from the
meeting was that the farmer
organisations need to do likewise.

The study included interviews with
farmers in Gloucestershire, Cheshire,
Staffordshire and Devon in 2012,
before the culling trials. The findings
suggest that farmers have a number of
concerns about the pilot badger culling
and the majority would instead favour
a more targeted cull whereby only
diseased badgers are removed.

Furthermore, the report discusses
the opinion that the farming industry
has a unified anti-badger sentiment,
keen to control the badger population
in order to preserve the country’s
cattle industry.

Perception challenged

This paper challenges this general
perception via a thorough examination
of the understandings and attitudes of
farmers towards the role of badgers in
relation to bovine TB spread and the
need to control the disease in the
species.

The Somerset farmers spoke
openly about their herd history,
experiences and attitudes. It was clear
that they fully appreciated that healthy
badgers on the farm were acceptable
and that their problems were due to
diseased badgers. The notion being put
forward that “the only good badger is
a dead badger” was severely criticised
with some colourful descriptions of the local individuals promoting an
extension of random culling later this
year.

Terms like “stupid”, “ignorant”
and “clueless” peppered the
discussion. Comments from local
farmers indicated that the combination
of shooting and trapping has resulted
in poor outcomes.

Another key finding from the
report highlighted the need for
improved communication between
farmers and government. Policy-makers need to better understand and
appreciate local knowledge and
farmers need to more thoroughly
appreciate the complexities
surrounding taking a targeted
approach for controlling the disease.

A better understanding of both
positions would facilitate co-operation
between government and industry,
which is a key aspiration of the
current bovine TB control programme.

There is also detail within the
report regarding badger vaccination.
Noting that the research was funded as
part of the Badger Vaccine
Deployment Project, it is clear from
the interviews and wider discussions
that farmers’ beliefs about nature and
their understandings of how the
disease spreads call into question the
role and practical applicability of
badger vaccination.

The views expressed at the
Somerset meeting and the views of the
farmers outlined in the report also
combine with the opinion that culling
only infected badgers is a more
practical and morally acceptable way to
deal with the problem.

There has been some publicity in
the south-west of vaccination trials.
The costs are high, at several hundred
pounds per badger. Some of the
funding is from the government, some
from charities and some private.

‘Snouts in the
trough’

A Somerset farmer is said
to have been offered a
three-year commercial
programme to trap and
vaccinate badgers for
£15,000 plus. There is no
apparent indication of
performance in preventing
or reducing bovine TB.

The view at the meeting was that
these initiatives are all about “snouts in
the trough”. The inability to
successfully trap badgers and the need
to inject each badger each year were
highlighted.

The research was presented at the
XXV European Society for Rural
Sociology Conference, held in
Florence, in a working group on
Biosecurity and Rural Governance.
Although the interviews were
conducted in 2012, the contents of the
report were not sufficient to change
the direction of the pilot culls. There
is clearly an apparent difference
between the policy direction with
badger culling and the considered
views of farmers.

It may be that the
harsh comments were in
part triggered by the
forthcoming election for
an NFU president.

So, what is to be
done? There is no
mention of a veterinary
view in the report but at
the meeting farmers
indicated that they
would be discussing
their situation with their
vet.

Co-ordination
needed

One of the aspects is the local
situation with neighbours. The farmers
indicated that they know one or two
bovine TB situations locally but a co-
ordinated effort to consider the
immediate local results was considered
to be helpful.

Veterinary practices could do worse
than identify where the disease is in
relation to clients.

The current initiative for the
AHVLA to investigate herds that have
been under restriction for 18 months
is one angle, but many farmers are
now concerned about the spread of
bovine TB. The most constructive
work for practices could well be with
the clear herds to assess local risks to
their status.

A further option is being made
available to members of the Badger
Welfare Association to identify healthy badger communities.
Healthy badgers would
be retained and only
badgers outside those
communities would
then be targeted for
control.

The way forward
would be for veterinary
practices to request an
area assessment working out from a herd of concern.
Training for wildlife surveyors and risk
assessors is also being planned and it is
likely that the involvement of
veterinary surgeons to combine their
awareness of cattle disease with
wildlife risks will be sought by clients.

Disease hotspot

There has been a problem for breeders
of pedigree cattle for years with the
notion that the south-west is a hotspot
for the disease. With the zoning now
introduced by DEFRA, this restriction
on businesses in the west country is an
increasing problem. However, the
industry has not promoted that only
20% of herds are under restriction and
that 80% are clear.

A group of Somerset Simmental breeders has discussed
whether they could
assess the incidence of
bovine TB within
member herds. It
could be that the
incidence in
Simmental herds is
much lower than the
area average and a
95% value for clear
herds is not far from
being bTB free.

One or two herds
targeted for control
could be significant.
There is much that could be done with local information.
The DEFRA website was still offline
as this was written so current county
data are awaited. The figures for 2012,
that may be revised, were that there
were 3,467 restricted herds in the West
region out of a total of 18,868 herds
(18%).

The total is made up of 4,192 dairy
and 14,676 beef herds: the dairy herds
make up 22% of all herds but what is
their contribution to bTB? Do the
78% of beef herds contribute a greater
percentage of bTB or not? Such detail
has not been made available but if
veterinary surgeons are to become
more active in control of the disease,
local information will be key.

If any practices wish to clarify and
discuss the ways forward with local
client initiatives, please contact
r_gard01@talktalkbusiness.net.

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