Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers - ZSL Statement

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is a conservation charity. ZSL’s Institute of Zoology carries out scientific research to inform the policy and practice of managing wildlife populations and their habitats worldwide.

ZSL recognises the serious impact of bovine tuberculosis (TB) on the livelihoods of UK cattle farmers. Such an important issue deserves the highest standard of evidence­-based management.

ZSL is concerned that the available scientific evidence† does not support the UK government’s decision to allow badger culling by licensed farmers in England. The complexities of TB transmission mean that the planned approach risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it†. Even if such increases do not materialise, the government predicts only limited benefits, insufficient to offset the financial costs for either farmers or taxpayers. Unfortunately, the planned pilot culls are not designed to measure the effects of licensed culling on cattle TB, nor to assess its costs. ZSL therefore concludes that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from the important business of controlling cattle TB nationwide.

As a conservation charity, ZSL is engaged in worldwide efforts to foster coexistence of people and wildlife. It calls upon the UK government to show international leadership in wildlife conservation, by seeking sustainable ways for badgers and cattle to coexist. ZSL is keen to help Defra to identify such sustainable solutions: our Defra-funded research seeks to minimise contact between badgers and cattle and we are also working to make badger vaccination cost-­‐effective. ZSL recognises the UK government’s wider investment in research on vaccination, biosecurity, and cattle-based controls, and believes that implementing a combination of these approaches has the greatest promise for long‐term TB control.

† There is convincing evidence that sustained government-­‐led culling, conducted on a large scale according to stringent protocols, can somewhat reduce the incidence of cattle TB inside culled areas. However, farms on adjoining land experience increased cattle TB and, in most TB-­‐affected parts of Britain, there is currently no practical way to mitigate the detrimental effects for these farmers. Moreover, the complex interplay between badger numbers, badger behaviour, and TB transmission mean that deviations from the stringent protocols – such as culls which are patchy, poorly coordinated, not sustained, or not conducted simultaneously across the whole area – are likely to cause net increases in cattle TB. Although the licensing criteria are designed to minimise such detrimental effects, implementing and enforcing these criteria entails substantial challenges for government, and adhering to the criteria will entail challenges for farmers, especially in the face of public protest. Hence, beneficial effects on cattle TB cannot be guaranteed.

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